Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: Falcons have tough decisions at all linebacker spots

1. Linebacker decisions. The Falcons have some tough decisions to make at the linebacker positions.

Arguably, veteran Paul Worrilow has out-played rookie Deion Jones and veteran Philip Wheeler would be a safer pick to open the regular season at strongside backer than Vic Beasley.

At the weakside spot, it's probably a toss-between veteran Sean Weatherspoon and rookie De'Vondre Campbell.

The linebackers will be worth watching when the Falcons (2-0) face the Miami Dolphins (1-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday in Orlando.

"The linebacker corps, the two young guys inside Jones and Campbell, they really bring a lot of speed to the position," defensive coordinator Richard Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. "Much more so than what we were able to have last year. Still, once again, they are very young, but they are doing really, really well."

They've been a part of Falcons coach Dan Quinn developmental program.

"They’ve spent hours and hours of time trying to learn everything," Smith said.

The Falcons eventually must make a project on the young players. They know what they are getting from the veterans.

"When you have a young player, every play is a learning experience," Smith said. "When you have veteran players they have already been through it, but I’ve been real pleased with their performance.

"They tackled really well in that first game. You see the length of Campbell. He made some plays on the ball. He got beat on one play last week in man coverage, but overall we’ve been really pleased with his coverage ability and his length. I love his demeanor."

Worrilow, the team's leading tackler over the past three seasons, isn't going down without a fight.

"You’ve got a real good battle going on there," Smith said. "Because Worrilow has had a really good camp and you’ve got Weatherspoon in there also competing at that position. So, it’s the veteran guys in there with the younger guys."

Smith likes the depth.

"We’ve got a lot of depth at that position whereas a year ago, we didn’t have as much depth," Smith said.

Beasley doesn't appear to be a lock at strongside linebacker anymore.

"Then also you have Wheeler, who is a versatile player," Smith said. "He’s playing (strongside) linebacker and it’s between him and Beasley on first-and-10.

"He can also backup inside if you need him to. Also, he’s able to help us on third down because he’s got really good blitz mentality to him, which we saw some of that last year. He’s really come through. I like his leadership role that he’s done in terms of him speaking up to the defense and the meetings really well."

2. Schweizter watch. The interior of the Falcons offensive line is taking a new shape this season.

Ben Garland and rookie Wes Schweizter have come on strong and may push Mike Person, last season’s starting center, off the roster.

The starting spots appear set with Andy Levitre at left guard, Alex Mack at center and Chris Chester at right guard.

Schweitzer played 61 snaps against Cleveland, more than any player on the team. He’s get some extensive action against Miami’s first and second teams.

The Falcons have to make sure he’s solid if he’s going to land the backup swing guard spot. Garland is a center and can also play guard.

“We want to see that match up inside,” Quinn said. “We’re pumped to head down to Orlando and play Miami. It’s a good challenge for us. These preseason games are all different and the match-ups are different so we’re ready to get this thing kicked off again.”

3. Backup corners needed. On the defensive side of the ball, Quinn wants to see some other players match up against NFL (first- or second-team) talent.

“I want to see the linebackers and safeties,” Quinn said. “I want to see (nickel back Brian) Poole matched up. C.J. Goodwin is another one that we’re trying to anxiously await to see what kind of role he can play. I wish there were more quarters to play because we want to take a look at a number of guys.”

 5. Collins developing. Quinn and defensive coordinator, in separate interviews, spoke highly of the play of Jalen Collins, who will receive extensive action over the final two exhibition games before serving his four-game suspension for using performing enhancing drugs.

“He played a lot and got extended time last week and we’ll do that again tomorrow and into the next one knowing that will be his action for the next month,” Quinn said.

Collins played 23 snaps against Cleveland, the most of any defensive player on the team and finished with two tackles.

"Overall, Collins is having a real good champ, too," Smith said. "He had a really good week of practice. In my mind he’s much improved over a year ago."

Collins, who was drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft, struggled as a rookie. He was trying to come back from foot surgery and never really got comfortable playing the position.

The Falcons had hoped Collins would land the right cornerback job and then they could move Robert Alford to nickel back to shut down speedy slot receivers. That’s plan is on hold for now.

However, Collins, a big corner at  6-1 and 203 pounds, is still an important figure for the Falcons because of the massive receivers in the division.

6. On the secondary. Smith believes that cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had good training camps.

"I like what I see out of Goodwin," Smith said. "It will be nice to see how he plays this week."

7. Free safety Allen shining. Free safety Ricardo Allen, who's essentially a second-year safety after converting from cornerback, is much more comfortable in his position.

"Allen has done a really good job at free safety," Smith said. "He’s much more confident. A year ago, he was trying to learn the position (and was asking himself) do I belong? Right now, he knows he belongs. I like his swagger, demeanor, his leadership."

8. Nickel back play. Smith is high on Brian Poole, the undrafted rookie from Florida.

"I like his toughness, his personality and his demeanor of the position," Smith said.

9. Young guns. At some point, the Falcons could be very young on defense.

They could have six rookies or second-year players on the field at some time if you count Allen as a second-year free safety along with Beasley, Jarrett, Jones, Campbell and strong safety Keanu Neal.

"Overall, we’ve got a really young group when you look at it," Smith said. "Coach Quinn has got these guys playing hard for one another. Overall, there will be some at times during the year, there will be some rookies playing a lot for us.

"I like what I see. It’s a good group.

“It’s a good group. If something happens say there is a veteran guy and a rookie is there pushing him, and if he happens to falter, you’ve got a veteran guy that can step up. The competition is there….We have much more competition there at the positions than we had a year ago.

"Right now, the competition level on this defense is better than it was a year ago and a year from now it’s going to even get better."



WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie,

6 Corey Washington

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton, 66 Laurence Gibson

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 64 Collin Rahrig, 79 Jordan Walsh

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland

RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 74o Michael Huey

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris

TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 82 Joshua Perkins,

49 Arthur Lynch

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 15 Nick Williams, 85 J.D. McKissic, 7 David Glidden

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 13 Sean Renfree, 4 Matt Sims

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson, 20 Brandon Wilds, 30 Cyrus Gray

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco, 39 Will Ratelle


DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 50 Brooks Reed, 93 Dwight Freeney, 96 Nordly Capi

DT 94 Tyson Jackson, 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 98 Cory Johnson, 75 Brandon Williams

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 92 Joey Mbu

DE 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 54 Malliciah Goodman, 49 Efe Obada

LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler, 52 Tyler Starr, 48 Ivan McLennan

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 46 Dominique Tovell

LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 59 De’Vondre Campbell

CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 39 Jordan Sefon, 38 Ryan White

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 25 Akeem King, 34 Brian Poole, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke,

33 Devonte Johnson

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie, 20 Sharrod Neasman

S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms, Sergio Brown


K 3 Matt Bryant, 17 Shayne Graham

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 26 Tevin Coleman, 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic

PR 14 Eric Weems, 87 Devin Fuller, 85 J.D. McKissic

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher


Falcons' offensive improvement starts with Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan resting well with Alex Mack on hand

Dwight Freeney: 'I still have a lot to give'

Jones-Sanu tandem is still developing chemistry

Falcons release first 2016 'official' depth chart

Cover 9@9: Sacks are finally important

Freeney excited about working with Vic Beasley    

LG Andy Levitre working to eliminate his penalties

PHOTOS: Falcons prepare for first exhibition game

5 quick questions with offensive line coach Chris Morgan



Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Quarterbacks

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Running backs

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Wide receivers

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Tight ends

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Offensive line


Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Defensive line

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Linebackers

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Defensive backs

Atlanta Falcons 90-man roster analysis: Specialists

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.