Strongside Linebacker: Brooks Reed
If a team has someone who looks like the movie character “Thor” on their roster, then that player has to be starting. Reed was signed as a free agent for 5 years/$22 million in March. Signing Reed to a 5-year deal was a little bit of a gamble by the front office, but I believe there is a strong possibility it will pay off. Reed will be playing the strongside linebacker position, as he has played that throughout his career. He is very talented at stopping the run and will be counted on to cover tight ends in pass coverage. He has recently spent his off seasons training with Houston Texan superstar, J.J Watt. He has bulked up and really found out what it means to become a true professional both on and off the field. Hopefully Reed can immediately make a change to what was an awful linebacking core last season.
Middle Linebacker: Paul Worrilow
If you have read any past articles I have written on Worrilow, you will know I’m not the biggest advocate of him. There is just no one on the roster who is better than Worrilow at middle linebacker, so coaches will have to play their best available player. I’ll give the man credit that he is a tackling machine, but it does not excite me because he gets most of his tackles from at least three yards past the line of scrimmage. Worrilow was an undrafted free agent following the 2013 NFL Draft, and the lack of talent is evident when watching Worrilow at times. He needs to have faster reactions, quicker feet, and better coverage skills than he had in 2013 and 2014. Hopefully his play in 2015 can make me re-think the way I view him, and I hope he proves me wrong.
Weakside Linebacker: Justin Durant
Another free-agent pickup from this offseason, Justin Durant brings an obvious upgrade to the Atlanta linebacking corps. Now although Durant only played in six-games for the Cowboys last season, he has proven to be a trustworthy linebacker when healthy. “Healthy” is the key to Durant though, as he has missed 16 games in the past two-seasons. Hopefully he left his injury bug in Dallas, as Atlanta will call upon him to make big plays in 2015.
Backups: Joplo Bartu (SLB), Nate Stupar (MLB), Marquis Spruill
When I mention that a key to Atlanta’s success is health, I am 100% serious. Not taking away anything from these three linebackers, but the talent starting compared to on the bench is different by a very wide margin. Bartu is the only one who started last year, but he is not an every-down linebacker. Stupar came to training camp in great shape, and he might push Worrilow during training camp, but Stupar won’t win the starting job. Then I have Marquis Spruill who I believe will be on the field on Sundays, just not every Sunday. He tore his ACL last year in a practice on August 7, and although ACL injuries have set players back, I think Spruill will prove his worth. He did not miss a single game in college, but this ACL is a cause for concern. Although Spruill has never played an NFL down, I believe his quickness, strength, and quick reaction will give him a chance in this league.