FLOWERY BRANCH – With middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leaving for the Saints, it’s clear that weakside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon’s role will expand under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
“I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing all of the time,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge. I think I’m ready for that, to do a little bit more and step out there and do some different things. I look forward to the challenge. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Weatherspoon, a former first-round draft choice who is about to enter his third year in the league, had a breakout campaign in 2011.
He finished with 127 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery, one fumble recovery, eight passes defensed and led the team with 14 tackles for losses.
Weatherspoon sensed early this offseason that he could be losing Lofton, his training partner.
In a recent Q&A, Weatherspoon touched on losing Lofton, Nolan’s intensity and on the team turning down an invitation to be on HBO’S Hard Knocks.
ON HIS OFFSEASON: It’s been great. I’ve been back to Texas to visit the family a little bit. I’ve been back and forth and to California for a few weddings. Just having a good time, but at the same time making sure that I’m working out and staying in shape.
ON HIS MEETINGS WITH MIKE NOLAN: We had our first meeting (recently). It will probably be our last one for a couple of weeks. Basically, what it was about was the vision that we see for our defense. We were talking about the cornerstones and what we want our defense to look like. I think it’s going to be a pretty fun year under Coach Nolan.
ON ADJUSTING TO A NEW COORDINATOR: I think it will be a little easier than if we were coming off a lockout year. Now, that we are back, we can get into the terminology of Coach Nolan’s system.
ON HAVING MOST OF THE GUYS PARTICIPATING IN THE OFFFSEASON PROGRAM: It’s a sense of security that everybody is out there doing what they are supposed to be doing. We have a way to be accountable. We trust each other. Just being around the guys, it’s always great to be around familiar faces.
ON WHAT LOSING LOFTON MEANS TO HIM: I figure that I have to be a little bit more verbal. It’s not a problem for me to be in front of the defense making calls. I’m going to be doing that in the third down package a little more. I look forward to it.
ON IF HIS RESPONSIBLITIES WILL CHANGE: Not really. Just on the third downs, from what I’ve been told, I’ll be the one getting the signals from the sideline. That’s going to be something that’s different because last year I might make a play and have a chance to celebrate a little longer. Curtis would round up the guys and then I would go to the huddle. Now, if I make a play, I have to make sure that I’m looking to the sideline so that I can get the call from coach and get the defense lined up and get ready to go.
ON IF HE CALLED SIGNALS AT MISSOURI: I did do that. . . In my senior year I did move inside some and I set the defense. I went down to the Senior Bowl and [they] asked me to [call signals] and I did that as well.
ON HARD KNOCKS NOT COMING TO FLOWERY BRANCH: A lot of people might think I am [upset] because I’ve been getting some tweets asking what my thoughts were. It’s old news. We passed on it and I look forward to just getting back and getting into the swing of things.
ON REPLACING LOFTON: It’s a tough challenge because Curtis was a great football player. He made a ton of plays. He was a guy that was always around the ball. He was one of the smartest guys that I played with. Akeem [Dent] will get that chance to come in and be that guy in the middle. I think with his attitude and learning ability that he’ll do a great job taking that role. I think it will be fun to see him grow as a player. It will be a challenge because when you’ve had someone who’s been the focal point of the defense for three or four years, it’s going to be hard to replace. We are going to have to work hard together. Coach Nolan has a system in place. And, all of the older guys like Stephen [Nicholas] and even Lofa [Tatupu] coming in with his experience, I think we all will do a great job of moving on.
ON IF HE SENSED THAT CURTIS WOULD NOT BE BACK: I did because we worked out together in Cumming. We saw each other every day. It’s just a business
and you have to treat as such, because that’s how they treat it. I respect Curtis. I had fun playing with him and I wish him the best.
ON HIS FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF NOLAN: I like his intensity. We break every meeting with ‘ready, break.’ That’s something that’s new. You can obviously sense that he’s intense based on that alone. He came into our [linebacker’s] meeting and when [linebacker] coach [Glenn Pires] was teaching us something, he was chiming in. I look forward to working with him a little bit more. I’m pretty sure that over the next few weeks I’ll get to know him a little more.
ON THE KEY TO IMPROVING THE THIRD DOWN DEFENSE: Accountability and trust. I think us trusting in Coach Nolan and his system and becoming more familiar with it. I think we have the veteran guys here that we need in order to set the tone for the guys like myself, the younger guys and new guys coming on to the defense, we can set the tone to let everybody know how important third down is. It was a thorn in [our side] last year. We definitely have to step that up. I look forward to helping out with that as well as other guys, we’ve already been talking about it.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog