Vivlamore reporting from Falcons training camp.
FLOWERY BRANCH – Sean Weatherspoon is on the move – defensively speaking.
The Falcons linebacker is adapting to the new scheme being installed by coordinator Mike Nolan during training camp.
“I’m moving around a lot more, playing in the middle, playing on the outside, doing a lot more things off the edge as well,” Weatherspoon said after a recent practice. “There is definitely a difference. But at the same time, it’s all about going out there and … being efficient in whatever role I’m in.”
The biggest benefit, said Weatherspoon, will be the chance to chase quarterbacks more frequently. He tied for second on the Falcons last season with four sacks, behind leader John Abraham (9.5). Nolan promises a more aggressive scheme.
“I feel like we blitz a little bit more than we have in the past,” Weatherspoon said. “You can definitely sense that. Everybody is getting a chance to go after the quarterback. That’s what I like about our defense. We are putting in different things.”
Weatherspoon will by key to the Falcons defense with the departure of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Weatherspoon had 125 tackles (84 solo, 41 assists) last season, including a team-high 14 tackles for a loss. He was second only to Lofton (159) in tackles.
Weatherspoon, who was named the defensive MVP following last year, was also fourth on the team with eight passes defensed.
“He’s a very good football player,” Nolan said. “He makes plays. …. They said he was a playmaker. I don’t see anything different. I would hope that things would even increase for him as far as playing making.”
Weatherspoon does face a challenge by new cornerback Asante Samuel as the most vocal member of the defense. However, despite entering his third season, Weatherspoon may soon be anointed in the role of defensive leader. With Lofton gone, signed as a free agent by the divisional rival Saints, is still waiting for veteran linebacker Mike Peterson to make it “official.”
“I feel like we have a lot of leaders but I feel like, being a linebacker, it’s kind of your role to be a leader of the defense,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m trying to step up and relish that role and at the same time continue to make plays. I’m trying to be better than what I was last year and help this team out.”
But will he put his stamp on the defense? And when?
“I just try to put my personality on it,” the 24-year-old Weatherspoon said. “I wouldn’t say I stamped it but I’m working toward it. I keep working toward it until I officially become the leader.
“Mike Pete will let me know. We are getting there. There is still work to be done, but we are getting there.”
There may not be much help coming from Lofton. Weatherspoon said the two worked out together early in the offseason but haven’t spoken since Lofton departed.
Weatherspoon and Lofton each had a team-high 12 tackles in the 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants in January. Two years in the NFL and Weatherspoon has tasted two opening-round defeats. He is a part of the Falcons’ frustration having lost three postseason games in four seasons under coach Mike Smith. The taste has been bitter and Weatherspoon said it fueled him during the offseason.
“If you haven’t won a game in the playoffs, and you know what the ultimate goal of the season is for everyone, if you are not shooting for that it’s nothing,” Weatherspoon said. “Everybody says that we haven’t done it yet. We hear it. So we are focused and just trying to get it done.”
- Chris Vivlamore