Falcons could start 5 or more rookies on defense
The Falcons are giving rookies bigger roles, especially on
defense, down the stretch of a lost season.
Coach Mike Smith said the commitment to youth which was so
obvious in last week’s loss at Green Bay will continue on Sunday
Smith continues to say his priority is to win this season and
establish momentum for 2014. He acknowledges there could be uneven
performances from 11 rookies, including some who are receiving
increased playing time in the final month.
”They’re going to go through growing pains,” Smith said.
”We’re going to go through growing pains, but long-term I think it
will be advantageous for us to get these … as many snaps as we
Smith began to look for more help from first-year players and
other backups as it became clear Atlanta (3-10) had no chance for a
sixth-straight winning season.
The youth movement is especially obvious on defense, where five
or more rookies could start against the Redskins. Three first-year
defensive backs could start against newly installed Washington
quarterback Kirk Cousins – cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert
Alford and safety Zeke Motta.
The Falcons also list rookie linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul
Worrilow as starters. Two more 2013 draft picks, defensive ends
Stansly Maponga and Malliciah Goodman, are in the playing
The matchup of last-place teams could be an ideal scenario for
”They’re in a similar position as us, being what their record
is,” Cousins said Wednesday in a teleconference with Atlanta
media. ”They do have some younger players in the rotation more
often than they did earlier in the year.
”I think at this point in Week 15 the rookie label starts to
mean a little bit less because these guys have accumulated a lot of
playing time now. As the first season winds down, the fact that
they’re rookies doesn’t carry as much weight as it did in Week 1 or
2 or 3.”
The emphasis on youth gained momentum last week when veteran
cornerback Asante Samuel was healthy but benched in favor of
Alford, who previously had been a regular only in nickel packages.
Trufant, a first-round pick, has been a starter all season.
”I feel we’re doing good,” Trufant said. ”A lot of guys are
having their numbers called and they’re stepping up. We’ve just got
to continue going and continue to get experience and make
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said the strong impact by the
rookies has been ”awesome.”
”You see so much promise in them and you see how far they’ve
grown since the beginning,” Weatherspoon said. ”You know you are
a part of something that’s going to be special and you’re just
looking forward to seeing them continue to grow and just playing
them a little more is going to make myself and some of the older
guys that much more comfortable with them.”
Motta could start against Washington after Thomas DeCoud left
last week’s game with a concussion.
It was the first time this season Samuel has not played when
”It was tough,” Samuel said Wednesday. ”I’m a competitor. I
love to compete.”
Smith said Samuel is still contributing as a leader.
”Asante is a team player,” Smith said. ”Asante is a mentor to
these guys and he’ll continue to be that. I think Asante, like a
lot of guys on this team, they understand the situation that we’re
in and they understand there are some guys who have worked hard who
deserve an opportunity to play.”
Worrilow led the team with 12 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks against
the Packers. Worrilow, who was an undrafted college free agent from
Delaware, has posted 10 or more tackles in six straight games. He
is challenging safety William Moore for the team lead in
Bartu, offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and wide receiver Darius
Johnson also are undrafted rookies. Schraeder, from Valdosta State,
did not start last week but played 71 percent of the snaps.
NOTES: DeCoud (concussion) and RB Antone Smith (knee) were held
out Wednesday. Among players who were limited due to injuries were
TE Tony Gonzalez (toe), WR Roddy White (knee) and LB Sean
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org