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Former Missouri linebacker Weatherspoon off to happy start with Falcons

Thursday, August 5, 2010 | 7:28 p.m. CDT
Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (53) stretches with teammates Curtis Lofton (5) and Weston Johnson, rear, last week during a preseason practice in Flowery Branch, Ga.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Sean Weatherspoon doesn't mind the blazing temperatures of training camp. The Atlanta Falcons' rookie linebacker can't stop smiling.

Weatherspoon, a second-team All-American last season for Missouri, was the last player to stop signing autographs for clamoring fans on Thursday. With sweat still dripping from his face as he walked to the locker room 20 minutes after practice ended, Weatherspoon couldn't wait for the afternoon session to start.

"Being enthusiastic, I'm always going to be like that, man," Weatherspoon said. "No matter what kind of day I had before got here, when I walk into the building, this is work, but it's fun work."

During the first week of camp, Weatherspoon hasn't just impressed coach Mike Smith, the defensive staff and his fellow linebackers.

Tony Gonzalez, a 10-time Pro Bowl tight end, is noticing, too.

"For a rookie to come in and play like he has, it shows a lot of maturity on his part," Gonzalez said. "Just his whole swagger — it's going to help us out a lot. Right now it's looking like a very, very good pick."

Surprisingly, Weatherspoon isn't struggling like most rookies to adjust to NFL speed. His biggest hangup is pass coverage techniques.

One reason is field measurements. Hashmarks on NCAA fields are 40 feet apart. In the NFL, the distance is 18 feet, 6 inches, so Weatherspoon must learn to trust his peripheral vision while playing the correct technique.

Linebacker Mike Peterson, a 12th-year veteran entering his second season with Atlanta, offers as much help in the film room as the rookie needs.

"I'm just working to make sure I'm doing my curl flat drop (correctly), doing my hook curl drop" correctly," Weatherspoon said. "Those are the two main drops linebackers are going to do. Mike Pete's been telling me you've got to look at this based on this formation, so you have to drop 'this' amount of depth."

In four years at Missouri, the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Weatherspoon finished with 413 tackles and 12½ sacks. The native of Jasper, Texas, is the first Atlanta linebacker drafted in the opening round since Keith Brooking in 1998.

Coincidence or not, Weatherspoon wears Brooking's former No. 56. He shares a passion that Brooking, a former five-time Pro Bowl selection, showed in an 11-year career before signing with Dallas last year.

The Falcons are playing Weatherspoon at both outside linebacker positions in their 4-3 scheme. They don't want opponents to think they can dictate how to block him, so Weatherspoon will line up opposite the tight end on some snaps and opposite a tackle or maybe a flanker on others.

Smith and his staff will have a better feel for Weatherspoon after a scrimmage Friday night at nearby North Gwinnett High School.

"I don't think you can really make that evaluation until you play a game," Smith said. "Right now, even though we're simulating football, he's got (position coach) Glenn Pires and (defensive coordinator) Brian VanGorder coaching the heck out of him and sometimes even standing behind him and helping him."

Weatherspoon has no doubt that he will continue to improve. He appreciates hearing that a veteran like Gonzalez likes what he sees.

"I just have to make sure I don't let that get to my head," Weatherspoon said. "I need to keep grinding, put in the work in the film room to make sure I'm staying up on my techniques, talking to Mike Peterson about the techniques and keep talking to (middle linebacker) Curtis (Lofton). If I keep doing that, then hopefully we can keep that the thing going."


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