Falcons rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow didn’t get on the field to play defense until near the end of the first quarter Thursday night.
It took four snaps for him to make a play, and Worrilow just kept going from there.
Worrilow made an open-field tackle of touted rookie running back Giovanni Bernard to scuttle a potential big play. He broke up a pass to force the Bengals to settle for a field goal. He sniffed out a screen pass to Bernard and dropped him for a 4-yard loss.
By halftime, Worrilow had recorded nine tackles despite playing only three defensive series. For good measure, Worrilow made the tackle on the opening kickoff of the second half.
It was an impressive debut for Worrilow, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles and played on all four special-teams units during the Falcons’ 34-10 exhibition loss to the Bengals at the Georgia Dome. He said he was glad to play in a game after several practices with limited contact.
“It felt a little better to actually finish on the ball, run full speed and run through the ball and through the ball carrier,” Worrilow said. “I thought I did a good job finding the ball through my assignment.”
Worrilow signed with the Falcons as a free agent in April. After a brief stop at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Worrilow walked on at Delaware and ended up starting four years. Worrilow was Delaware’s defensive player of the year as a high school senior.
Worrilow said he was able to adjust to the speed of the stronger competition during practices so the game wasn’t overwhelming. “It was about what I expected,” he said. “Football is football.”
If Worrilow keeps up his strong play for the Falcons, there could be a chance for him to make the regular-season roster. The Falcons carried five linebackers last season, and one of them, Mike Peterson, has retired. Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas are entrenched as the starters this season.
The fifth linebacker last season, Robert James, played only seven snaps from scrimmage last season, but was a special-teams ace. Pat Schiller was on the practice squad last season and has earned praise from coach Mike Smith during training camp.
The Falcons didn’t draft a linebacker, meaning Worrilow could compete with Schiller and three other college free agents for a roster spot. The Falcons have carried six linebackers on the roster in past seasons, so there could be two open spots.
“We didn’t draft any linebackers, per se, but there’s good competition,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said recently. “There are some roster things that we are playing with a little bit, as well as some free agents that have done a nice job.”
Worrilow said he can get better.
“There were a couple plays where I thought I could have exploded into the ball carrier a little better than I did,” he said.
Lineman signs, Johnson on IR: The Falcons placed offensive tackle Mike Johnson, who suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated left ankle Tuesday, on injured reserve Friday.
The team signed offensive tackle Jeff Nady to take his roster spot and waived punter Sean Sellwood.
Nady is 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds. He played at Nevada and with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in April. He started 36 games for the Wolf Pack and was a two-time all-conference pick.
Staff writer D. Orlando Ledbetter contributed to this article.