A linebacker corps that oversaw a defense that statistically struggled against the run (ranked 24th) and the pass (ranked 21st), but lead the Falcons to stand up when it counted (11th in points per game) and losing only 5 regular season games. The Birds allowed both of their starting OLB’s to enter free agency without a new deal. Longtime Falcon fan favorite and hometown boy Keith Brooking was let go to the Dallas Cowboys, and a once promising, potential Pro-Bowl player in Michael Boley quickly exited Atlanta and signed a rather big contract with the New York Giants (5 yrs, $25 million).
Replacing a Long Time Favorite
Everyone knew that Dimitroff wanted to build through the draft and possibly even acquire more draft picks in order to restock an emaciated defense, one that already was the weak link of a playoff team that lost in the first round. But creating two holes in the linebacker corps alone seemed to create an unnecessary hole in a defense full of needs. GM’s can only mine so many starters out of one draft, even talented ones like Dimitroff. The biggest gap that Dimitroff created on the Falcons defense was the refusal to resign Keith Brooking, an iconic player form the State of Georgia. As is well known, Brooking played his entire football career inside the border of Georgia; Coweta High School, Georgia Tech, and the Atlanta Falcons. Brooking was the only remaining player to experience the magical run to the Super Bowl of 1998.
No one can question the career production of Mike Peterson in the NFL. He’s known as one of the better linebackers in the league in recent history, particularly in the middle. Peterson is recognized as one of the hardest hitting LB’s, with a ferocious tendency of flying to the ball and punishing the opponent. He was one of the main leaders of a defense, which Coach Smith helped build, that ranked at the very top in the NFL. The Jaguars were always known for their tough, hard-hitting defense that kept them in many games and gave their offense a chance to win the game. Peterson was the main fixture of that aggressive style of DEF. His statistics over his career speak for themselves:
Career Averages as a Starter (2001 – 2008)
Games Started – 14, Tackles – 93, Pass Defenses – 3, Ints – 2, Sacks – 1
The Clash in Jacksonville
In 2007 and previous years, Peterson had phenomenal years at linebacker, ranking as one of the best linebackers in the league in terms of tackles and consistency. After spending 6 years in Jacksonville, it was assumed that Peterson would likely finish his career there. 2008 saw a clash of the titans in Jacksonville, with Peterson and Coach Jack Del Rio firmly squaring off against one another. Not much is known about that spat between the otherwise extremely professional individuals. Peterson was benched for several games and stripped of his captain status. The linebacker obviously opted not to return to play for Del Rio and seemingly both gentleman have moved on, refusing to address the issue or speak negatively about the other. Even with the benching, Peterson still led the team in tackles last year with 84.
A Perfect Fit?
Peterson is familiar with Smith, his system, and his coaching style; an evident good fit for him. Even though Peterson played MLB in Jacksonville, he has played all three positions and defines the movement towards versatility that Coach Smith craves. He is currently slotted to play weakside linebacker in place of Keith Brooking, but has played all three linebacker positions in his career. Signals point to Peterson on a mission to prove that last year was a blip on his career and wanting to make one last run at the Lombardi Trophy. He has led by example with ferocity and immediately established his leadership on the young defense from the first day of training camp. Coach Smith is surely counting on Peterson to be a mentor to the all of the younger linebackers (Nicholas, Lofton, Adkins, James). Did the Falcons get the career workhorse LB or the troublesome player from 2008? Dimitroff, Smith, and Falcons fans certainly hope the former.
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