Now that Weatherspoon is set to return for the first time since Week 2, there is a possibility he could be right in the middle of things once again.
Don’t be surprised if Weatherspoon, just activated off injured reserve following a Lisfranc foot sprain, sees time at middle linebacker when the Atlanta Falcons face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday. Weatherspoon typically starts at weakside linebacker, but putting his experience in the middle would allow undrafted rookies Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to remain in the starting lineup at the positions they’ve grown accustomed to during Weatherspoon’s absence: Worrilow at weakside linebacker and Bartu at the strongside spot.
Akeem Dent started the past four games at middle linebacker, but something has to give with Weatherspoon back healthy. Plus Weatherspoon, who had full participation in Thursday's practice, didn’t seem opposed to trying something new.
"I’m really comfortable at any spot," Weatherspoon said. "I've never played [the middle] here for the Falcons. I never play inside. But I’m comfortable inside, most definitely."
Weatherspoon was the backup middle linebacker at the University of Missouri in 2006, which would explain his comfort level.
The Falcons have remained coy about the alignment of their linebacking corps upon Weatherspoon’s return. They’ve gone with four different starting trios in nine games due to injury. Bartu, Dent, and Worrilow have started five games together.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan all but made it clear that Worrilow would remain on the field following back-to-back, 19-tackle performances. Worrilow has played all three linebacker positions, so he could be an option in the middle as well. Bartu is content right where he is at strongside linebacker.
As for Weatherspoon, the biggest factor with him might be his conditioning coming off the injury. When he returned to practice last week, he admitted not being totally back into shape. Now, he’s prepared to play a full load of snaps. He’s scheduled to remain on the field in the dime package, which could happen more often than not against a Bucs team likely forced to pass more without its top two running backs.
"I did some more conditioning," Weatherspoon said. "We’ve been running around. But if I need a blow, I need a blow. I won’t hurt the team. I won’t stay out there if I’m not ready to go.
"Our training staff here and the strength staff, they’ve done a great job of getting me ready. I ran every day last week during practice. So, I think we’re ready."