After winning 13 games and coming within one game of the Super Bowl in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons fell apart in in 2013. The team won only four games, in large part because of injuries that ravaged the team on both sides of the ball.
Now, with the team trying to bounce back in 2014 and making big changes on defense, the injuries have started again—and in a place the Falcons can least afford them.
Bleacher Report NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen was among those who broke the news that Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was out for the season after tearing his Achilles in OTAs:
As Jay Adams of the team's website reports, head coach Mike Smith released a statement:
During Sean’s run today with our medical staff, he suffered an injury. We sent Sean to the doctor for some additional testing and evaluation and unfortunately the results showed that he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Sean had been working extremely hard to get back on the field, but regrettably he will miss the entire 2014 season. He will have a procedure done in the near future and we expect him to make a full recovery.
Teammate Matt Ryan tried to put up the proverbial brave face:
But Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com tweeted a more accurate sentiment for the news:
For Weatherspoon, the news is absolutely devastating. After tallying 115 tackles and four sacks in 2011, Weatherspoon looked ready to join the elite players in the NFL at his position. Since then, injuries have cost him 12 games. Add this lost season (a contract year, no less), and by the end of this year, Weatherspoon will have missed 28 of 48 games over three years.
The news isn't much better for the Falcons. Weatherspoon, who was held out of OTAs while recovering from knee surgery, was expected to start at inside linebacker in the Falcons' new 3-4 front.
Now, it's scramble mode for a team lacking proven options inside.
Paul Worrilow tallied 127 tackles as a rookie last year, but he graded out 41st among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Fellow second-year pro Joplo Bartu, who is shifting inside in 2014, graded 23rd of 35 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers last year.
Akeem Dent, the "elder statesman" of the group, hasn't topped 65 tackles in three NFL seasons. Prince Shembo and Yawin Smallwood are rookies.
Mind you, this was already a defense heading into the 2014 season that had questions at every level, from where the pass rush would come from to how the secondary would hold up.
The inside linebacker spots, at least, seemed relatively set, with Weatherspoon not only leading the way but also likely making the play calls.
Well, so much for that idea.
If there's a silver lining, it's that in happening this early, the Falcons have several months to figure out Plan B. Expect to see a carousel of players tried next to Worrilow. Maybe Dent will finally step into the starting role so many thought he was destined for a couple years ago. Perhaps one of the rookies will be quick studies and step into the void.
That's the problem. The Falcons already had more than enough "maybes" and "perhaps" on defense this year.
The last thing they needed was one more.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.