Atlanta Falcons: Nicholas all smiles these days

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Stephen Nicholas is having fun again – so much so his teammates have taken to call him “Pic-Nic.”

It wasn’t long ago the Falcons linebacker described himself as heartbroken over missing the final seven games last season, save for a few plays in one, with turf toe. That included the team’s January playoff loss that ran the current regime’s postseason record to 0-3.

Nicholas had surgery that required five months for a full recovery. At times following the procedure he used a scooter for his right leg just to be mobile. He missed all the Organized Team Activities and minicamps while the team installed the defensive scheme. He was cleared to return prior to the start of training camp.

He’s back – and it’s quite evident.

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Stephen Nicholas (right) joins fellow linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent during a training camp practice. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

“Being down that long, I’m excited to be back and I feel blessed,” Nicholas said. “It’s a joy every day. You see a little bit of the excitement.”

Nicholas’ exuberance is costing fellow linebacker and training camp roommate Sean Weatherspoon sleep.

“I like to sleep to the last minute,” Weatherspoon said. “Every morning, he’s knocking at the door. … He’s so upbeat.”

These days Nicholas is one of the players who can be found in the middle of the pre-practice huddle, inspiring teammates for the work ahead. It’s another glimpse into the personality of the player who could be considered the unsung leader of the defensive unit.

“He loves his craft and he’s young at heart,” linebackers coach Glenn Pires said. “He’s young at heart even though he’s been in the league six years. He runs around like he’s a rookie. He has a lot of energy. He enjoys the game and he really looks forward to everything, in meetings, in practice.”

Nicholas is no rookie. He is entering his sixth season. He was limited to 10 games last season, also missing two early-season games with a calf injury. He finished with just 32 tackles after recording 82 and 87 the previous two seasons.

As the Falcons move on after the loss of last season’s leading tackler Curtis Lofton, Nicholas will be a key part of the defense for his ability to play all three downs. According to Pires, Nicholas has the speed and ability to cover tight ends and running backs on pass routes, which is an important element of the scheme. Also, speed will come into play on blitz packages.

Nicholas’ assets will be tested on third down – a point of emphasis for the Falcons with their defensive changes. Last season the Falcons were tied for the third-worst success rate, with the Vikings, on third downs in the NFL. They allowed the opposition to covert a staggering 44 percent (93-of-211 chances) of their attempts. Only the Chargers (49 percent) and the Colts (45 percent) were worse.

Pires said if there is a difference in the new scheme, it will be what the Falcons do on third down.

While his exuberance is showing on the training camp practice field, Nicholas said he is not losing sight of the ultimate goal. There is unfinished business with that 0-3 postseason record gnawing at him and his teammates.

“That is a hurdle we need to get over,” Nicholas said. “We need to finish. That’s definitely [the feeling] in the locker room.”

The team goal of changing the franchise’s recent postseason failures is paramount. While the Pro bowl may a personal goal this season Nicholas, like many of his teammates, is not sharing. There are bigger issues.

“My goals are what they are,” Nicholas said. “If we proceed to get the team goals, I’ll know I accomplished my goals. I’m shooting for the team goals first. If we do everything right and get to where we need to be, at the end of the day, my goal is going to be right in there.”

- Chris Vivlamore

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27 comments Add your comment

FL Falcon

August 17th, 2012
12:40 pm

FalconFaninVR

August 17th, 2012
12:41 pm

Nicholas and Peria Jerry have been bright spots so far for the defense.

nikcanon

August 17th, 2012
12:44 pm

The Real Rick

August 17th, 2012
1:10 pm

The Real Rick

August 17th, 2012
1:10 pm

Not first………….:(

The Real Rick

August 17th, 2012
1:11 pm

These LB’S are going to be ok! I like this group!

SirReal

August 17th, 2012
1:18 pm

I agree. Both Nicholas and Jerry have been nice to watch thus far. Peters is gonna have to fight for his spot when he gets back. Jerry looks ready to take back the spot that was originally his. Looks like the D-Line’s depth is getting better. I like the LBs. We as a whole D though have to wrap up better when tackling and get off the field on 3rd down. That still seems to be a vice….

falCANS

August 17th, 2012
1:23 pm

Nicholas was a monster yesterday. At least yesterday he made me forget we had spoon. Woulda had a sack but got held with no call by the refs. Mike pete jumpeda out at me too. One play he was covering a tight end on a cross route. Looked good

gl

August 17th, 2012
1:24 pm

Since the Falcons are not producing much of a pass rush they should explore a 3-4 defense sometimes especially with the progress of other players such as Sidbury, Biermann and James. Massaquoi, Robertson and Schiller has shown potential as rookies.

falCANS

August 17th, 2012
1:27 pm

Agreed with you all assessment of Jerry. But ima Peters fan lol

falCANS

August 17th, 2012
1:37 pm

They have been showing 3- 4 looks. Abraham was standin up all game like a olb. The rush was great in terms of pressure. Two sacks and 88 hurries lol

PMC

August 17th, 2012
1:50 pm

Nicholas and Jerry have both looked good so far. Speaking of Nicholas, Robert James finally looks like he might be a decent backup to Pic Nic

Loyalfalconfrmthemississippi

August 17th, 2012
1:53 pm

I thought we looked great yesterday and i think i see a come back from peria hes looking good peters better fix that injury or he may not be starting lol i love peters but they will play the best available also dominator davis how bout that performance he had i didnt see that coming no worries on the secondary u win some u lose some thats wat assante does he takes chances to make plays most the time he comes out on top not always thats his game let him play also wouldnt worry bout that first quarter offense looked like they were testing their screen game with all their players thats y its a preseason game its just practice and perfecting no worries we are looking at a dominating team in the nfc no doubt go falcons

St Simons

August 17th, 2012
1:56 pm

No need to pay Grimes that much,
he should get endorsement deals from Wonder Bread & Sunbeam

JSS

August 17th, 2012
2:35 pm

I’m happy for Nicholas, glad to see him recovered and “hopefully” healthy! He’s a rarity for them, they actually developed him… He and Grimes have worked hard and deserve the accolades for those efforts…

Trailboss

August 17th, 2012
2:42 pm

As an ex linebacker myself and there’s only one way to play it and most people can’t do it and that is keeping your eye on the ball… not the man the ball and if you can play with your forearm than you’re on your way to being great at the position. You know when you’re a good linebacker the guy’s behind you don’t get any action.

Purplefalcon

August 17th, 2012
3:10 pm

Did you know that Pic-Nic, although a starter, has always played on all special teams except field goal… Now that production and he never complains…..

to real

August 17th, 2012
3:25 pm

Not really much to add after yall comments ima man who as been hard on jerry and nicholas but they both have look good in nolan system jerry is playing like he has sum to prove which he does as a 1st round pick he’s been a bust tha d-line is tha best I have seen on our team in a while good depth on dat line plus dem two rookies look good LETS GO FALCONS ALL THE WAY TO THA SUPER DOME AND WIN A SUPERBOWL ON THA SAINTS HOME TURF

Antman

August 18th, 2012
12:40 am

Team as hold vlooks good, with the exception of the runing game, something we must have if we are to move to the next level. Turner is finished and I’m afraid that Smith won’t sit him down because of what he has been to the team team. What’s your thoughts.

Falcons Chic

August 18th, 2012
1:11 am

Love the energy, love the attitude … particularly with the willingness to back it up. While I still worry about losing Lofton, I don’t think the coaches were that torn up unless they were told not to be by the GM. Now, where was that Lombardi Trophy we’ve seemingly misplaced?

BIGBEN42

August 18th, 2012
4:57 pm

Nicholas will have a excellent season.He seems to be a blue collar type player, kind of shy.He will lead the LB core with his play this year. On to the playoffs.

skydog

August 18th, 2012
6:24 pm

Turner got over 1,300 yards last year antman. Slowing up maybe, but not finished.

First time Season Tix Holder

August 18th, 2012
10:27 pm

Beer…..What is your favorite beer?

old man

August 19th, 2012
9:32 am

I’m not sure Quizz is our three down back. Maybe, maybe not. I tend to doubt it. But that’s what we need–a three down back, not a third down back. There’s a difference.

I just usually read but...

August 20th, 2012
9:47 am

@First time Season Tix Holder
favorite beer = open, or in the case of draft, in a glass/cup/mug.

Mikey

August 20th, 2012
3:04 pm

It is sure nice to have Nicholas back healthy, P. Jerry too. These two guys make a big difference in the D and I sure hope they can stay healthy. If Jerry continues to play like he has been, he will be the starter but eiither way it is nice to see the depth we now have at D-Line. Weatherspoon tackled like my wife’s 85 year old grandma in this game. (She’s always on the spot but she just doesn’t knock them over any more). I sure hope he was simply instructed not to hurt anybody in this practice game and will actually tackle again in future games. Go FALCONS!

mark

August 20th, 2012
3:32 pm

I hope the unit as a whole will come together in the next few weeks, need to start of strong. I think Dent will be fine back there replacing Lofton. What I hope to see is more blitz formations on 3rd down. We got beat in the Cinny game when we let Dalton have all day. I hope it is b/c of pre season we are not showing anything right now to put on film. We do not have the talent on the Dline to rush 4, and need to be aggressive. If we are going to get beat, go down fighting.