Yesterday we took a look at the generals of the Atlanta Falcons- the quarterbacks. Now, we cast an eye to the other side of the ball and look at the defensive leaders in the linebackers. This is a unit that is going through a major change with MLB Curtis Lofton leaving for New Orleans via free agency.
It's that middle linebacker spot where there will be the biggest battle in training camp. Incumbent Akeem Dent looked quite good in limited time last season, but it's still too risky to give such a vital leadership role to a young player. He'll be battling free agent acquisition Lofa Tatupu- formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. Tatupu's route to Atlanta is a curious one. He started strongly, and looked on track to be the next great NFL middle linebacker, but then his career was derailed through injury and coaching change, ultimately missing the 2011 season. Now Tatupu is looking to return to the NFL, and in Atlanta's base 4-3 defense he has a good chance to start.
At outside linebacker the starting jobs are set. Sean Weatherspoon is a dynamic young linebacker with plenty of upside, and across from him Stephen Nicholas is reliable, but was battling injury last season. It's the spots behind Weatherspoon and Nicholas that the battles get really interesting behind these players with Robert James and Spencer Adkins. Both these players have special teams histories, but aren't reliable in a pinch. However, the Falcons didn't bring in appreciable talent upgrades at OLB through free agency, and were unable to address the position through the draft. Don't sleep on the linebackers the Falcons brought in via UDFA. Keep an eye on Jerrell Harris of Alabama. Of all the players the Falcons brought in I believe he has the biggest chance to make the roster and unseat one of the backups.