We've broken down our projected starters, a true underdog, and two other players who are competing to be the fourth and fifth linebackers for the Atlanta Falcons. There are two more players who may have a shot at making the team at linebacker as training camp rolls along in Flowery Branch.
LINEBACKER: PAT SCHILLER
Pat Schiller was an undrafted free agent the Falcons picked up last season out of Northern Illinois. Schiller saw a lot of playing time in the preseason last year, but the Falcons weren't impressed and cut the former second team all-America from the MAC conference. He was signed to the practice squad later on in the season and returns to training camp hoping to redeem himself this year.
It's hard to make any predictions on Schiller. He seemed to be overmatched in preseason games last year, often times not taking the best routes to the ball carrier and being slower than his competitors at closing in on the ball carrier and wrapping up.
Schiller didn't see a lot of playing time in college until his senior year in 2011 where he broke out and had 115 total tackles, ten tackles for loss and two sacks.
Last year his game didn't translate to the NFL from the MAC conference. Schiller looks to be a player that will continue to be a practice squad player unless he makes significant strides in training camp this year. There hasn't really been any buzz coming out of training camp on him, so we'll see how he fares in the preseason this year. Hopefully with a year of experience in the NFL under his belt, improvement will be seen. But he's definitely a real long shot to make the team as of now.
ILB PAUL WARRILOW
Warrilow was a stand out linebacker at Delaware. He finished with 107 tackles and nine tackles for loss last season. Another undrafted free agent from a small school, it's once again very difficult to ascertain whether or not Warrilow's game will translate to the NFL.
He was highly lauded at Delaware, however, where he was a member of the first team all CAA last season. He posted a 4.59 40 yard dash at his pro day earlier this year.
Warrilow will get plenty of chances in the preseason this year, particularly later in games. He seemed to be tackle machine at Delaware, but so did Pat Schiller at Northern Illinois during his senior year. It's difficult to really tell where Warrilow fits in. He's much more likely to see time on the practice squad this year given his inexperience.
STATE OF THE LINEBACKER CORE:
There's very little experience with the back up linebacker core. So it begs the question, why does Thomas Dimitroff constantly go after these undrafted free agents to fill his linebacker core? It's understandable to do this with a couple of players at a position, but to fill the rest of the linebacker core (minus the starters) with undrafted free agents is quite a risk, because there is no proven depth from the backup players.
The Falcons have upgraded their running game over the offseason and perhaps their secondary. Two picks were used on the defensive line, along with bringing in Osi Umenyiora. No draft picks were spent to improve a very average linebacker core from last season. If one of the starters goes down, there is no one who has proven that he has the ability to take over starting in the NFL. Thomas Dimitroff made no moves to significantly improve the middle of the Falcons defense.
Every team has holes. There are more holes on the Falcons than just the linebackers, with questions on the D-Line and O-line as well. But it's perplexing that the Falcons have done little to nothing to add some depth to the linebacker position other than sign a bunch of undrafted free agents to fill these holes.
It's not like the Falcons will live or die by the success of this core, but if the starters don't remain healthy, the linebackers could slip from being average to being well below average. This could create an even bigger hole within the front seven then there already is. However, it's possible that one of these players could really step up and prove he is NFL ready. Nick Clancy seems to fit the mold the most out of any of these guys. But all of these players are still big question marks due to their inexperience.
Will Dimitroff's undfrafted free agent approach work for the Falcons at linebacker? Can one of these guys step up if need be if Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas or Akeem Dent goes down with an injury? Let us know your thoughts.
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