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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Falcons have competition at OLB

By Pat Yasinskas

Aside from the competition at nickel back that we talked about earlier, the other best battle in Atlanta’s camp is outside linebacker.

Curtis Lofton is set at middle linebacker and second-year pro Sean Weatherspoon has one outside spot locked up. But coach Mike Smith said the other outside spot is wide open. Veteran Mike Peterson was the starter last season and Stephen Nicholas had been a starter on the outside in 2009, before Weatherspoon came along.

Now, Peterson and Nicholas are competing for a starting job.

“We feel very good on what Stephen has done developmentally,’’ Smith said. “We know that Mike has the ability to play all three positions. That gives us a whole lot of flexibility, not only in our base package, but our sub-package. We want to get as many guys as possible ready. When you have a 53-man roster you hear us talking about that all the time, it’s all about cross training, because from week to week you’re going to have all kinds of adjustments that you’re going to have to make throughout the season.”

I think it also is important to note that the Falcons re-signed Nicholas to a five-year contract that averages $3.5 million a year. That might not qualify as huge money, but it’s bigger than backup money. That tells me the Falcons would like to get Nicholas on the field.

Maybe it comes right at the start of the season or maybe the Falcons open the season with Peterson starting and gradually let Nicholas take over. Peterson’s been willing to play special teams in the past. Even if that becomes his main role, he still gives the Falcons a solid backup and a good leader.

“Mike Peterson is a football player,’’ Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s defense, or special teams; he’s going to do whatever it takes to contribute and help our football team win. If you ask Mike he would tell you he can go over to the offensive side and probably play some positions over there as well. You love to have guys like that. He’s a pro. He just loves to play the game of football.”