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After the season-ending injury to Sean Weatherspoon, the Atlanta Falcons have been looking around for options as a potential replacement. Weatherspoon was supposed to be the anchor for their revamped 3-4 defense, alongside Paul Worrilow. Unfortunately the injuries continue to hinder his career, as he’s already missed 28 out of his last 48 games.
Now the Falcons are scrambling to setup a proper training camp battle to replace one of their few defensive playmakers. They drafted Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood, but those are developmental talents at best right now. Tim Dobbins was signed a month ago, although he’s only expected to contribute on special teams. He will most likely take Akeem Dent’s spot, who was traded to Houston in the off-season.
The realistic training camp battle seemed to be between last year’s incumbent starting outside linebacker Joplo Bartu and fourth round draft pick Prince Shembo. There have been rave reviews about Shembo’s motor and how physically strong he is. The big question will be how he transitions from playing outside to inside linebacker? It seems to be massive task for a player, who was naturally a pass rusher at Notre Dame and had some off the field issues.
Still he’ll have every opportunity to compete with Bartu, along with the Falcons latest signee. Pat Angerer was signed yesterday to bring in more competition. Besides Dobbins, the entire inside linebacker core is filled with rookies or second year players. Thomas Dimitroff was adamant in bringing in another veteran linebacker to bolster their depth. That is why this move shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Angerer has gone through some knee and foot issues over the past few years. He’s been limited to 22 games over the past two seasons. Before that, he had 148 tackles and seemed to be on the rise. Granted, he put up those numbers for an abysmal Colts team in 2011. You could never judge a linebacker simply off tackles, especially when they play for poor teams. There is a clear reason that Angerer wasn’t signed until now.
Was the reasoning behind him coming off micro fracture surgery on his knee? Could it be from that he simply wasn’t very good? According to Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus, Angerer graded out to be a minus 32.1 grade in his career. He tends to be a coverage liability, which is something that Paul Worrilow has already proven out to be. While 3-4 linebackers don’t have as much coverage responsibilities as they would in a 4-3 scheme, it would concern me greatly to have them both starting.
Angerer is still 27 years old and could finally be healthy. I’m not ruling him out because of his past deficiencies. It’ll still be hard-pressed to beat out Bartu because of Bartu’s upside and ability to cover. Worrilow seems to be a lock starting at the other inside slot, due to his promising rookie season. Angerer will need to learn to adapt to a 3-4 scheme, as well as improve his ability to cover.
In such a tough situation, I’m not critical of this move at all. He may be considered injury-prone, but he’s close to entering his prime. You can’t say the same for the likes of Jonathan Vilma and Nick Barnett. Those are two linebackers, who are heavily injury prone and declining. Even in his prime, Vilma was a poor fit in the 3-4 scheme and never was the same from his chronic knee problems.
Dimitroff realizes that the Falcons aren’t going to contend for a Super Bowl this year. There isn’t any purpose behind making a panic move and trading for a veteran linebacker. On a further note, what’s the purpose of signing an older linebacker like Vilma? These linebackers aren’t reliable and will slow down the progression of the more promising younger linebackers. Angerer is far from being done and could end up becoming a decent player.
Atlanta is in a precarious position right now. They dedicated their off-season into becoming stronger on both lines. The defensive line seemed to be a bigger priority by the multiple signings in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. They look settled in to stop the run and to force teams in becoming one-dimensional. The question now becomes if a few players from the linebacker core can break out and become playmakers?
Worrilow seems to be on the right path from last season. Now it will be up to Bartu, Shembo, or Angerer to claim that final starting spot on a revamped Falcons front seven.