The 2013 Atlanta Falcons have had little to be happy about this season as I look over the schedule we’ve limped through. But like that creamy middle in that popular cookie that makes folks smile I found a small bit of happiness in one particular area. We all know in the middle of the offensive huddle that Matt Ryan still stands tall with no rushing game, without his pro bowl receivers and a very porous offensive line. But on the other side of the ball there is the young players learning on the fly and where I find a surprise shining light, not on the line or the secondary but in the middle of the field at the linebacker position.
Paul Worrilow, an all American out of Delaware and Jopla Bartu from Texas State who earned all WAC second team have emerged faster and farther than anyone, in the stands or on the staff, could have predicted. Fighting for spots in camp months ago as undrafted free agents they overcame the odds and over stepped players like Brian Banks and Pat Schiller to claim a spot on the roster.
Neither recorded even a special teams tackle on opening day against the Saints. The season has not gone as hoped and injuries to Spoon, Dent and Nicholas have thrust these two twenty three year olds into the very important starting linebacker position, where playing the run and the pass are expected while controlling the crucial middle of the field on defense. They both came into play against Miami and have slowly taken on more playing time and larger roles. For undrafted players they have done very well in a season going sour.
Against the Jets on Monday night, Worrilow tied Osi for team lead in tackles with six while Bartu chipped in with four tackles and a sack. The next week against Tampa Worrilow led the team with ten tackles and was involved in a sack as Bartu recorded four tackles. Out in Arizona Worrilow was at six tackles (right behind Babs at 7 for team lead) and Bartu had five tackles and was involved on a sack. The Falcon record can easily be tied to the trouble in the trenches, but when you lose all three starting linebackers it has to take a toll. Fortunately the staff saw enough in a solid preseason from both of these rookies to not only stick on a roster spot but contribute and every game make progress. Mike Nolan has to be pleased for such a promising duo solidifying a area of talented depth at linebacker in just a matter of weeks. The path that both rookies have traveled since August could have easily been detrimental to both players but they have handled the pressure and task laid upon them as well as a second round pick. (Intended compliment).
It is important to see how they fare against the upcoming game with Carolina, which has a three game winning streak and have won four of their last five. The Panthers play Atlanta like any division rival and will be a huge obstacle for the birds in Charlotte. Last year both teams won the home game in the series and if not for Ryan’s heroics they would have swept Atlanta. In both Carolina games last year Stephen Nicholas led the Falcons in tackles so again the middle of the field will need solid play. Worrilow and Bartu have contributed to the Falcon middle defense quite admirable. It will be interesting to see if the growth continues as the Falcons hit the middle of their season.