It’s no secret that Atlanta’s pass rush has been lacking for the past couple years, but so have the linebackers. The linebackers for Atlanta have been an obvious weakness. Not being quick enough to their spots, lacking the average coverage skills, and not being able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks are obvious flaws. If Atlanta wants to improve their team in 2015, the linebackers are going to have to step up their play. Luckily, the Falcons front office realized they needed to find more talent in free agency this offseason.
General Manger Thomas Dimitroff decided to add free agent veterans Justin Durant and Brooks Reed earlier this offseason. Both free agent additions definitely bring talent that the 2014 NFC South runner-ups have been lacking for awhile. Neither are superstars, but they are vets that are as solid as they come. With Sean Weatherspoon deciding to head to Arizona, it put more pressure on Atlanta’s front office. The loss of Prince Shembo due to off the field issues may prove to be huge, as he was supposed to see an increased role in the 2015 season. The Falcons lost some talent, but if Reed and Durant can prove to be the cornerstones of the linebacking core, Falcons fans will forget who Shembo and Weatherspoon were quickly.
In my free agent preview for linebackers, I have Brooks Reed starting at strongside linebacker, Paul Worrilow at middle linebacker, and Justin Durant at weakside linebacker. IF these three can stay healthy for majority of the season, this linebacking core will be much improved in 2015. I’m harsh on Worrilow because many have hyped him up too much to the point where he has become overrated, but I feel that having veterans such as Durant and Reed will make him progress as a player, especially mentally. Middle linebackers call the shots on defense, and Worrilow will still be depended on to anchor the defense. He is a tackling machine, but if the Falcons linebacking core wants to be great this upcoming season, Worrilow will have to take the next step as a player and become a force in the middle of the defense.
Durant and Reed will be starting, barring any injuries before Week 1. Reed was rated the 26th overall outside linebacker by ProFootballFocus.com, but he had a more legitimate defense surrounding him. He will see an increased role, and will have to be a solid run-stopper like he always has been in order for Atlanta’s defense to progress. Reed has worked in the offseason with the great J.J Watt. Watt is known as one of the hardest workers in the game and it shows week in and week out on the field. Perhaps Reed can even improve as a pass rusher in the new system, but at the very least he will be a terrific run stopper for the Falcons, which is something they have been lacking the past two seasons. Durant, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker, was sidelined for the majority of 2014 due to a torn biceps injury. In the six-games he started, he was the top linebacker for the Cowboys. He brings in a great array of talents, especially his great coverage skills for a linebacker, but he will also be a huge factor in stopping the run. The Falcons defense was dismal against the run last season ranking 21st, and the additions of both Reed and Durant will improve the run defense. Both of these guys resemble the kind of hard-nose physical style that Dan Quinn had in Seattle and is trying to implement in Atlanta. I expect big things from Reed and Durant this season.
Dan Quinn and Richard Smith will make sure these players are prepared this season. Quinn is a defensive-minded head coach, and Smith is the defensive coordinator. Jeff Ulbrich was hired earlier this offseason to help improve the linebackers, and actually played in 120-career NFL games himself. Quinn and Ulbrich both coached in Seattle in 2010, so there is a lot of familiarity between the two. Atlanta did not just add talent to the linebacking core this offseason, they added the coaching minds to help fix the problem as well. This group of coaches have experienced great success at all levels, and I expect the combination of improvement in both the coaching staff and the players to loom large in the Falcons’ success this upcoming season.