The Atlanta Falcons are destined to have their third different starting linebacker trio in five games, but defensive coordinator Mike Nolan doesn’t seem too concerned.
"It’s just something you deal with," Nolan said. "It’s disappointing that guys have gotten hurt. It’s unfortunate that it’s happened more at the one position."
Injuries to middle linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle) and outside linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee) could force newcomer Omar Gaither and recently demoted Stephen Nicholas into the starting lineup for Atlanta's game against the Jets on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."
When Dent limped off against the Patriots last Sunday, it forced Gaither, who was signed Sept. 17, to finish the game at middle linebacker. He played 10 snaps.
"He’s a bright guy," Nolan said of Gaither. "I think this is his eighth year. And it shows. He takes a lot of leadership. He’s a very vocal guy. He’s got a lot of confidence.
"I’ll say this: I’m glad he’s here. I’m glad we picked him up a couple weeks ago. You certainly don’t want to pick a guy up off the street like that and hope for him to play right away. But he had a couple of weeks with us, and I think it’s helped."
Nicholas kept a positive attitude after losing his starting spot to Worrilow. Nolan told the story of how Nicholas volunteered to be on the show team during walk-through.
"He is an extremely positive guy," Nolan said. "Now he’s back in the thick. For a guy like that -- not that you want injuries to occur for a guy to get back -- but at the same time, good things should happen to a guy who keeps his spirits up like he did."
No matter what personnel the Falcons go with Monday night, they’ll have to improve in a variety of areas. They’ve given up seven plays of 40-plus yards -- including four against the Patriots -- and are second-to-last in the league on third down. The third-and-19 play the Patriots converted, a play in which some defenders failed to get proper depth on their drops, was a costly mistake.
"Typically you want your underneath coverage to get a little deeper," Nolan said. "It was actually a five under, three-deep coverage."
Nolan said the combination of young players and new veterans has caused him to keep his defense basic. He’s not using that as an excuse, however.
"There [are] several guys that you’re kind of learning on the go here," Nolan said. "Some of them haven’t done it as much as others. We just have to get up to speed quicker. That’s all."