Atlanta Falcons: Omar Gaither

The Atlanta Falcons added a new face at linebacker Tuesday with the signing of veteran Thomas Howard.

Howard
The 30-year-old Howard, a former second-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders back in 2006, has 78 career starts from his five seasons in Raiders and two seasons in Cincinnati. He started one game for the Bengals last season before tearing his ACL in practice.

Howard, an outside linebacker known as a sure tackler and a solid cover man, will likely get his best shot to contribute on special teams, at least immediately. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan previously talked about how difficult it is for a player to sign late with the team and then immediately have an impact. Such was the case with veteran linebackers Omar Gaither and Jamar Chaney, both of whom signed with the Falcons on Sept. 17. Gaither started one game and had difficulties, while Chaney was waived Tuesday to make room for Howard.

The Falcons do have injury concerns in the linebacker rotation, however. Akeem Dent returned from an ankle injury against Tampa Bay but appeared to re-injure himself again while playing 31 snaps. And Stephen Nicholas suffered a thigh injury after playing just three snaps on special teams. Sean Weatherspoon, who was placed on short-term injured reserve with a foot injury, is targeting a return for the Week 11 game against the Bucs.

The Falcons also signed safety Sean Baker to the practice squad to fill the opening created after receiver Darius Johnson was elevated to the active roster.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said he has options at linebacker. It will be interesting to see what those are if Akeem Dent doesn't return to the lineup Sunday.

Dent
Dent, who missed the last game with an ankle injury, was back at practice this week but is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFC South clash against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started at middle linebacker when healthy.

Omar Gaither started at middle linebacker in the last game alongside outside linebackers Joplo Bartu and Stephen Nicholas. Paul Worrilow, who surpassed Nicholas in the starting lineup in Week 4, seems to have recovered from the knee injury that bumped him back out of the starting lineup during the last game.

"We've got some guys that have now played in our sub package -- a number of guys -- Akeem being one of them, Stephen, and our two rookies [Bartu and Worrilow]," Smith said. "So we'll have some flexibility in our sub package.

"Omar has not played in any of our sub, but he's played in our base. So it gives us flexibility in terms of how we're going to put that together."

The Falcons have gone with a different linebacker trio in every game, not counting Week 2 when defensive coordinator Mike Nolan started the game with an extra defensive back in the nickel package.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Kroy Biermann, who started Week 1, suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon tear in that opener. Fellow starting outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was placed on short-term injured reserve with a foot injury and is eligible to return. Weatherspoon tweeted Friday that he is targeting Nov. 17 at Tampa Bay for his return.

Injuries, of course, have taken a toll on the 1-4 Falcons. Wide receiver Julio Jones is done for the season after foot surgery. Fellow offensive starters Roddy White (hamstring), Steven Jackson (hamstring) and Sam Baker (knee) are all sidelined.

Here is the full injury report for the Falcons-Buccaneers game:

FALCONS – Out: WR Roddy White (knee, hamstring), RB Steven Jackson (hamstring), LT Sam Baker (knee), TE Chase Coffman (knee); Questionable: LB Akeem Dent (ankle); Probable: RB Jason Snelling (concussion).

BUCCANEERS – Out: G Carl Nicks (foot), RB Jeff Demps (groin); Questionable: WR Mike Williams (hamstring), DE Da'Quan Bowers (toe), CB Michael Adams (knee); Probable: G Davin Joseph (knee); C Jeremy Zuttah (groin).
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who missed last week’s game with a thigh injury, was on the field with a helmet and gloves during the open period of practice.

Samuel
Samuel did light sprints before joining the defensive backs for the start of individual drills. He did not practice Thursday.

While Samuel showed signs of progress, running back Steven Jackson remained without a helmet as he continues to recover from a Week 2 hamstring injury. Jackson completed a few stretching exercises then observed as the running backs went through drills.

Jackson is not expected to play Monday night, but coach Mike Smith refused to rule him out just yet.

Linebacker Paul Worrilow, who started against the Patriots but exited with a knee injury, had a helmet on for the start of the special-teams portion of practice. Worrilow had his left knee heavily taped.

Stephen Nicholas, Omar Gaither and Joplo Bartu are expected to form the starting linebacker combination against the Jets.

Receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White were on the field in full practice gear. White wore a red compression sock on his left leg as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain. Jones has been either held out or limited throughout the season in what has been labeled as a knee issue.

Update: Here is how Friday's injury report shaped up:

Did not participate: Jackson (hamstring)
Limited participation: Jonathan Babineaux (foot), Julio Jones (knee), Asante Samuel (thigh)*, Roddy White (ankle), Paul Worrilow (knee)*.
Full participation: Drew Davis (ankle)

*Indicates a change in status from the previous day.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons linebacker Omar Gaither, a newcomer to the team but a veteran in the league, has seen his share of rookie quarterbacks in seven previous NFL seasons.

So when the topic of facing New York Jets rookie Geno Smith on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" was brought up, Gaither's eyes got a bit wider.

"You hate to say it, but it’s almost like you start to lick your chops a little bit more," Gaither said. "It seems these days, they come in and they’re playing well. Obviously we had some rookies come into the league last year and play very well. But a rookie’s a rookie."

An ankle injury suffered by middle linebacker Akeem Dent could mean Gaither will man the middle against the Jets. Dent has had success blitzing, so you wonder if Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might do the same with Gaither.

Whatever the case, the Jets’ Smith has cracked under pressure at times already this season.

"You give him multiple looks. You just try to confuse him," Gaither said. "That’s what they would do against a rookie corner. That’s what they would do against a rookie tackle. Someone who just doesn’t have that experience, you always try to take advantage of that."

Smith has completed 78 of 136 passes for 1,090 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. His overall passer rating is 68.6 and he’s 26th in the league in fourth-quarter passing (69.2). He’s been sacked 14 times, double the amount Matt Ryan has been taken down.

The fact the Jets are hurting at receiver won’t help Smith’s cause. So it makes sense for the Falcons to bring intense pressure. They have just seven sacks, led by Osi Umenyiora with two. The Falcons are ranked 28th in the league in sacks per pass play.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said Smith is similar to Carolina’s Cam Newton.

"I’m sure we will have something put together well planned for Geno on Monday," Babineaux said. "We’re just going to try and frustrate him; make sure he’s not comfortable. We have to continue to make sure that we don’t make the game easy for him."

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