Outside LB Sean Weatherspoon, one of the leaders of the Atlanta Falcons’ defense missed Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys with a right ankle injury.
Weatherspoon, 2nd on the team in tackles and sacks, injured the ankle in last Sunday’s 30-17 win at Philadelphia.
The loss of Weatherspoon, a 1st-round pick in 2010, is a significant blow to the NFL’s only undefeated team. He played on each snap on defense this season before the injury.
“Spoon is a hard guy to replace,” said safety William Moore, who also played with Weatherspoon in college at Missouri. “With Spoon being out, we are going to need for everyone to step up another notch. That is a significant loss for our defense this week from a leadership standpoint.” NFL spreads
Weatherspoon had 10 or even more tackles in 4 games this season after setting career highs with 127 tackles and 4 sacks in 2011.
Smith provided no details on the severity of Weatherspoon’s injury. Weatherspoon didn’t seem to be favoring the ankle when he walked thru the locker room when hacks were doing interviews. Weatherspoon declined an interview request.
Akeem Dent, a 2nd-year player, will be the most important alternative for Weatherspoon.
“It’s a break for him to step up and play,” Smith said of Dent. “We anticipate he’ll do a nice job.”
Dent is the starting middle linebacker in the team’s base 4-3 defense. But the Falcons play the majority of most games in their nickel defense with only 2 linebackers and a 5th defensive back, and that leaves Dent out of the equation.
The Falcons’ nickel back, Robert McClain, played 90 percent of the defensive snaps against Philadelphia. Dent said he played only 7 snaps in the base defense against the Eagles before replacing the injured Weatherspoon in the 4th quarter.
Dent filled in for outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas in the Atlanta Falcons’ 23-20 win over Oakland on Oct. 14 and had a career-high 9 tackles.
Dent’s playing time is commonly limited but he said he’s always preparing for the chance to take a bigger role.
“Each week I am going out in practice and continue to get reps within the nickel package,” Dent declared. “It’s no different for me. I mostly watch Sean when he’s in there and get mental reps if I’m not in the game or not on the field in practice.”
Veteran outside linebacker Mike Peterson would join Dent and Nicholas as the 3 linebackers if the Atlanta Falcons play their base defense.
Dent, a 3rd-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2011, asserted he always practices as if he could play a bigger role.
“My thing is to always be ready,” Dent claimed. “You never know when there will be an injury in the game, like what happened last week. Something happened and snap I’m the next guy in.”
According to the Falcons’ stats, Moore leads the team with 63 total tackles. Weatherspoon has 60 tackles, 4 tackles for lost yardage, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. His 3 sacks trail only John Abraham’s team-leading 7.