FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The return of veteran outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon this week from a Lisfranc foot sprain should inject some life into the Atlanta Falcons' defense. It also will shake up the linebacking corps a little bit with Weatherspoon expected to regain his starting spot, barring any setbacks.
But based on what defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had to say on Tuesday, undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow will be one of the linebackers on the field alongside Weatherspoon.
Worrilow made a name for himself with consecutive 19-tackle performances the past two games. He joined Ring of Honor member Jessie Tuggle as the only Falcons to record 15 or more tackles twice in one season. Worrilow, with 59 total tackles (according to team stats), is second on the Falcons behind safety William Moore (81).
Nolan noted how Worrilow has played all three linebacker positions, meaning he could easily play either outside spot or the middle. Fellow undrafted rookie Joplo Bartu actually replaced Weatherspoon and has been productive, too, while middle linebacker Akeem Dent has been slowed by an ankle injury.
In Sunday's loss to Seattle, Worrilow and Bartu typically remained on the field in the sub package when the Falcons brought in an extra defensive back.
"When he came here, early on we saw that he was sharp enough to mentally, at least, pick them up," Nolan said of Worrilow playing all three positions. "And so he did it in training camp, and he's had to do already in the season.
"He's a good football player. He's very instinctive. He's a good tackler. If you noticed in the middle of the field against Carolina, he tackled the back in space a couple times. He tackled that big back [Marshawn Lynch] last week a couple times in space by himself, when there were a couple times I saw [Lynch] carry about three or four of our guys down the sideline. ... The biggest thing that stands out is he's instinctive. And for a young guy, last week he was one of the team captains. In timeout in things when I'd call him over, he's got a good way about him, very poised."
Nolan went on to say Worrilow doesn't act like a player who's "in his first rodeo" out on the field. Such high praise would indicate Worrilow has roped in a starting spot. Besides, head coach Mike Smith said the best players will play down the stretch based on competitions in practice, and it's hard to imagine any other linebacker outplaying Worrilow at this point.
For those questioning Worrilow's production and wondering if his tackles are coming too far down the field, Nolan cleared up any doubt.
"He's not getting JOPs -- jump on piles, as we call them," Nolan said. "He's tackling people. Yes he is. It's not like he's some long-armed, big, gangly [player]. But he tackles well. He has. Knock on wood he keeps it up, because he's done a good job."