FLOWERY BRANCH — For most people, talking interrupts the silence. For Sean Weatherspoon, it’s the other way around. It’s widely believed he spent about seven minutes as a baby in the goo-goo, gah-gah period of communication, and then advanced directly to a full-blown monologue.
“If I played offense, I’d be writing down his license plate,” said linebacker Mike Peterson. “And then when I got a chance, I’d look him up — and shut him up.”
And he actually likes Weatherspoon.
How much does Weatherspoon talk? So much that in the weeks leading to the NFL draft, some teams decided to ignore the game tape from Missouri because they believed he wasn’t worth the trouble. Or the punctured ear drums.
An unnamed executive from one team was quoted in Pro Football Weekly as saying: “He never shuts up. He gives me a headache. I don’t want him in my locker room.”
To all of the detractors, the Falcons say: Thank you.
They believe they will be better on defense because of Weatherspoon. He gives them what they need: An outside linebacker with speed, ability and exuberance. If daily loud annoyances are unfortunate byproducts of that, so be it.
“I notice when people get angry at me,” Weatherspoon said, smiling, like this was a badge of honor. “Sometimes they want to come after me.”
Was he always this way?
“Oh yes, even when I was young,” he said. “If you would listen, I would talk.
“I always got into in trouble in school. My progress report would say, ‘Talks excessively.’”
General manager Thomas Dimitroff comes from New England, where players are disciplined, bordering on robotic.
“We were hypersensitive to bulletin-board material,” he said.
He drafted Weatherspoon anyway. When he witnessed him up close at Senior Bowl practices, others were scared off, but he was intrigued.
“Some people in the league were taken back by the loquaciousness,” he said. “It spurred a lot of discussion, whether he was going to be disruptive, because he was so over the top. In my mind it was worth [researching], whether it was contrived or it was truly his personality. We came to the conclusion it was never a negative-driven enthusiasm.”
If Weatherspoon was perceived as merely a megaphone with ears, Dimitroff wouldn’t have taken him the 19th pick. But he impressed the team in several interviews, and in “white board” sessions with coaches.
“When he’s in the room, he has a presence,” Dimitroff said.
No kidding. On the first day of full-pad practices, Weatherspoon nearly took off running back Antone Smith’s head — problem being, he didn’t realize it wasn’t intended as a full-speed drill. (”I just got caught up in the moment,” he said.)
The next day, Weatherspoon (6-2, 245) scuffled with tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 307).
It’s what you would expect from somebody who has studied highlights from the likes of Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Jack Ham and Ray Nitschke.
“You definitely want people to know that you’re here,” he said. “My goal is to come in and make plays. I want to show that I belong.”
He also understands he’s a rookie. After practices, he carries Peterson’s shoulder pads and helmet. He brings drinks and snacks to veterans. He sings on demand.
“The linebackers made me do it,” he said. “Ruben Studdard, ‘[Flying] Without Wings.’”
Dimitroff told his scouts not to think, “We can change him.” He wanted to know if the real Weatherspoon would fit in. Fortunately, the player didn’t try to low-key it at the Senior Bowl.
“Everybody was so quiet during the stretch,” he said. “It’s like, ‘This is not me. This is not normal.’ So I just started yakking it up. Next thing you know, everybody was into it. Just because we were in front of all GMs and scouts doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.”
Final story: Falcons officials were meeting with one last player before the draft at UCLA. Dimitroff sat in the back of the room, listening to coaches talk to the prospect.
“My mind was wandering,” he recalled.
At that moment, he took personnel director Les Snead’s small whiteboard and wrote down one of his mantras: “Positive. Passionate. Perserverance.” He added a “12” (Weatherspoon’s uniform number at Missouri) after each word.
“I started thinking, ‘Why are we wasting our time to see if he’s going to fit in?’” he said.
The new mantra in Flowery Branch: Embrace the noise.
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