Falcons Add LB Tim Dobbins, but Weatherspoon's Replacement Already on Roster

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Falcons Add LB Tim Dobbins, but Weatherspoon's Replacement Already on Roster
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The Atlanta Falcons, in an effort to find a replacement for injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, hosted veteran Jonathan Vilma on Wednesday for a workout.

According to the NFL’s transaction report, Weatherspoon was placed on injured reserve Monday after rupturing his Achilles six days prior while working with the Falcons’ training staff during OTAs.

Atlanta showed interest in Pat Angerer, according to Rapoport, and also brought in Nick Barnett and Tim Dobbins for a look.

Late Wednesday, the Falcons announced two transactions. In addition to trading linebacker Akeem Dent to the Houston Texans for quarterback T.J. Yates, Atlanta also signed Dobbins.

Dobbins was a fifth-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2006, where he played for four seasons. He started a total of 10 games while appearing in 62. After the Chargers, Dobbins spent a season with the Miami Dolphins, where he started six games for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, and then made a total of six starts in three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Over the course of his eight seasons in the NFL, Dobbins has made 22 starts and appeared in 110 games. Since 2011, he’s only notched six starts and played a total of 471 snaps on defense, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

While Dobbins definitely has experience playing in the NFL, he may at best be a second option to replace Weatherspoon and possibly end up farther down the depth chart at inside linebacker as the season progresses.

As the Falcons decide who will play the two pass-rushing outside linebacker spots (early looks have Jonathan Massaquoi and Kroy Biermann there), Paul Worrilow should have one inside linebacker spot locked up. Worrilow, an undrafted free-agent signing last season, was forced into action. In 12 starts, Worrilow led the Falcons with 127 tackles and finished tied for 12th in the NFL.

To fill the other inside linebacker spot, Atlanta will have to watch Dobbins battle Joplo Bartu, another undrafted free agent forced into action last season, and fourth-round pick Prince Shembo.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Bartu should be the early front-runner for the job.

In 13 starts last season, Bartu made 84 tackles and tallied 3.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Bartu finished the season with negative pass-rush and pass-coverage grades (-3.2 and -8.5, respectively) but had a positive grade as a run defender. In fact, Bartu’s 8.4 run-defense rating ranked seventh in the NFL among 4-3 outside linebackers.

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Moving back to inside linebacker (Bartu played on the inside at Texas State) could be a sound move for Bartu. He and Worrilow will work in tandem to secure the second level of the defense and roam for tackles.

Bartu’s 13 starts as a rookie and the fact that he already has a year of service with the Falcons should give him a leg up in the competition for that second inside spot among the linebacker corps. If Bartu does win the job, Dobbins and Shembo will work as backups and compete for the role of next in line should there be an injury during the season.

The longer the season goes without an injury, the more likely Shembo is to be the guy who steps in if the Falcons need a replacement at inside linebacker.

Dobbins brings a good bit of NFL 3-4 experience with him to Atlanta. But in eight seasons, he’s never differentiated himself as a starting-caliber linebacker. Bartu was forced into a starter’s role by injury, but his time there last season still should carry more weight.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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