We continue our "State of the Falcons" series as we look at each area of the Falcons and now move on to the linebacker corps. This years LBs will look a lot like last years squad. The Falcons did not use any draft picks on LBs and only signed one in free agency.
The conversation about the Falcons linebacking squad begins with Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon was the Falcons second leading tackler with a combined 95 for the season in 2012 and he added 3 sacks. His production (per game) was up from 2011 but his stats were down due to missing three games.
Stephen Nicholas is the Falcons other primary LB, as the Falcons will play nickel over 50% of the time. Nicholas led the Falcons with 97 combined tackles and he added two sacks but struggled in pass coverage. 2012 was by far the best year for Nicholas as he had his most career starts and was given more responsibilities. Can Nicholas continue to improve in 2013? That's a big question that could answer whether this LB squad is better than last years.
Who led the Falcons in tackles in the post-season? If you said Akeem Dent, you lied. You know you didn't say Akeem Dent. Anyway, it was Akeem Dent with 17 combined tackles. Dent will be a third year player this season. He saw his first meaningful defensive action this past season and got better as the year progressed. He finished with 65 total tackles, which was sixth on the team. Dent will play MLB as a part of the Falcons base 4-3 and should continue to improve this year.
The only free agent signing for the Falcons at LB has been Brian Banks. Banks is a great inspirational story and is going to give it his all but we really don't know what he's going to be able to provide for the team in terms of meaningful snaps, or if he's even going to make the team. Banks never played college football and the only pro football he's played was last year when he played in two games for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the USFL.
The Falcons have five other LBs listed on the roster. This is a make it, break it year for Robert James. He played in every game last season and had 11 tackles. This will be his fourth season and if he doesn't make a real impression in camp I could see him being cut to make room for some younger talent that might have a higher upside. Pat Schiller is a player that will be looking to make the main roster as he spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
In addition to those players, the Falcons have three UDFA's who will be fighting for roster and/or practice squad spots in Delaware's Paul Worrilow, Texas State's Joplo Bartu and Boston College's Nick Clancy.
Overall, this years LB squad will look a lot like last years LB squad. With some better health for Weatherpoon and improvement from Dent and/or Nicholas and a better understanding and comfort level with Mike Nolan's defense we could see some improvement with this group but expect pretty much what you got last season.
State of the Falcons