Atlanta Falcons Scramble To Replace Weatherspoon

Jul 01, 2014 4:55 AM EST

Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta’s defensive leader and host of the YouTube series D-Block, will be lost for the season after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon during a workout. He already missed a lot of time due to injury last year, and his absence affected the whole defensive unit. The Falcons were ranked in the bottom 10 in most defensive categories.

Someone would have to step up and lead an already shaky defense. And Atlanta is in desperate need of a lifeline. Fortunately, they have enough options to work with, either through free agency or open competition.

The easiest option is for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to hand the leadership role to Paul Worrilow. Though he started out as an undrafted rookie free agent, Worrilow rightfully earned the right to start last year. He led the team with 127 tackles and was praised as a reliable tackler. I don’t mind Nolan giving the keys to the defense to the second-year linebacker, as long as the latter continues to progress.

The Falcons can look towards free agency to fix their woes as well. According to the Twitter account of Ian Rappaport, the Falcons are “looking hard” at Jonathan Vilma.

They can afford to sign Vilma for a short term deal; Atlanta has over $9 million to spend on free agents. He’s already a proven veteran with three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring. Vilma can be the backbone of the defense, just like he was for the Saints and the Jets before then. However, I’m concerned about how he’ll grasp the multiple defensive schemes in time for training camp. I’m assuming that a complex defense, such as the one that the Falcons employ, takes at least a season to master. Vilma would have to learn it in less than two months, unless Nolan plans on giving him an abridged guide to running multiple, hybrid defenses and add more responsibilities as the season progresses. Vilma is a respected professional and should be able to grasp the program, but giving him a few months of leeway might be beneficial.

Option three is to have Worrilow, Joplo Bartu, Prince Sembo, Tyler Starr, Yawin Smallwood, Marquis Spruill, Brenden Daley, Akeem Dent, Jacques Smith and Walker May duke it out for the leadership role.

This would be an open battle among two second-year players, a veteran and a handful of rookies by the way. That shows you how little experience that the linebackers have, outside of Dent (though he’s not that much better than the others). I expect Worrilow to be the victor, just on last year’s stats alone. However, the Falcons brought in linebackers looking to make an impact on defense, and these players have aspirations to take a starting spot.

It looks like the Falcons may have up to seven rookies with such hopes. In this scenario, the one who is the hungriest will win that battle. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved by the start of the regular season. Otherwise, the Falcons’ defense will continue to be anemic and a disappointment.