Atlanta Falcons: Who is the Falcons starting Middle Linebacker?
Before I get started breaking down the Atlanta Falcons’ middle linebacker position, I would like to let everyone know a little about myself and my Falcons fandom. My name is Ryan Robertson and I currently reside in Newnan, Ga. I’ve been a Falcons fan since the early days of Michael Vick, but my love for the team really took off in 2008 with the arrival of Matt Ryan.
Now, with Coach Quinn arriving, I expect our best days are on the horizon. With that said, I’d like to thank all the writers and readers for welcoming me to be a part of Blogging Dirty. Now let’s get started!
The ILB position is a pivotal position in the 4-3 “under” defense that Dan Quinn likes to run. It requires sideline to sideline range and a nose for being around the ball. Also, sure tackling ability and good closing speed are essential in the type of linebacker that Coach Quinn is looking for to fit his scheme.
Or as he would put it, “fast and physical.” With the draft and free agency coming to a close, let’s take a look at the options already on the roster for the Falcons starting middle linebacker position.
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Worrilow is the incumbent starter at inside linebacker. After joining the Falcons as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 draft, Worrilow managed to wrestle the starting job away from Akeem Dent after a strong training camp. He would spend the next two seasons as a starter, racking up 270 tackles and four sacks.
While showing promise as a solid run stuffer and effective, yet under-utilized blitzer, Worrilow leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to coverage. He was the third worst linebacker in coverage last season, according to PFT ratings. He is only 25 however, and could eventually develop into a serviceable cover linebacker. At this moment though, he is best served playing as a two-down thumper, with Dan Quinn subbing him out for an extra defensive back on passing downs.
Bartu also joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He is more athletic than Worrilow, and he has also spent some time playing alongside him as an outside backer.
I feel he is better suited for an OLB spot because of his athleticism, but he will find more time playing inside due to the plethora of linebackers the Falcons have brought in to compete on the outside. He offers more upside in coverage than the the other middle linebackers, but his shakiness in run defense will assuredly cut down his playing time behind Worrilow.
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Spruill, at 6’1″ and 231 pounds, is an intriguing guy to look at. A fifth round pick out of Syracuse in last year’s draft, Spruill is an instinctual linebacker who has a knack for being around the football, something Dan Quinn covets at the ILB position. While not a phenomenal athlete, Spruill does have excellent closing speed and good burst as an A gap blitzer. He also has good leadership qualities, similar to Worrilow, and has a very determined work ethic.
The major question for Spruill is if he can come back healthy from a torn ACL he suffered in training camp last year. If he returns at full strength, he could be a dark horse candidate for the starting job, even with his short stature.
Nate Stupar and Allen Bradford
Let’s be honest. Nobody expects either one of these guys to win the starting job. If they are starting, the Falcons’ defense as a whole won’t be much better than they were in 2014. That isn’t a shot at them, but they bring a different type of value to the team.
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Stupar is a core special teams player and is one of the best in the league. After being picked up on waivers from the Lions mid-way through last season, he stepped right into the Falcons special teams unit and helped solidify a top-5 unit under special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
Bradford, picked up off waivers from Seattle this offseason, is a converted running back with very limited snaps at linebacker in the NFL. He also projects to be a special teams player as well, assuming he makes the roster in training camp.
Given the current state of the Falcons inside linebacker group, I would fully expect Worrilow to keep a firm grasp on his starting job. While not the best middle linebacker out there by any stretch of the imagination, he offers more than his current competition and can carve himself a niche in Quinn’s defense. If he can continue to work hard and develop his game, he could shock all of us with his on-field production.
Ultimately, I see Worrilow as a stop gap option for this year, with a high draft pick being spent on a three-down linebacker in 2016. Even then, Worrilow still flashes enough potential to serve as a useful backup if the Falcons brain trust goes that route in the future.
What are you thoughts on the Falcons middle linebacker situation? Make sure to comment your thoughts below.