Atlanta's new defensive leader

I’m in the process of cleaning out my tape recorder and notebooks from my trips through training camps around the NFC South. I just came across some leftover stuff that’s too good to go to the scrap pile.

When I visited Flowery Branch, Ga., I spent some time with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and he talked about how he sees his role changing dramatically in his third NFL season.

“I feel like I just have to do more,’’ Weatherspoon said. “I feel like I was a leader last year. But this year, things got a little bigger. With the new defensive schemes, we’re doing a lot more things and we’re more multiple, so having that role is challenging. You have to master it. If everybody knows that you’re confident in the system and that you can get everybody lined up, then everybody’s confident and it makes our defense that much better.’’

I’d take it as a really good sign that Weatherspoon realizes he needs to build this defense because it’s obvious the Falcons plan on him being a cornerstone in new coordinator Mike Nolan’s system. The Falcons let middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leave in free agency. A big part of the reason that happened is because Nolan views middle linebacker as a two-down position. He wants Weatherspoon and fellow outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas on the field on passing downs.

Weatherspoon also will be the guy wearing the helmet that has radio communication with the coaches and he’ll be at the front of the huddle calling the defense. Weatherspoon’s been a vocal player since he entered the league in 2010, but he admitted he deferred a bit to Lofton, who previously was viewed as the leader of the defense. Now, Weatherspoon is embracing that role.

“I’ve seen him step up with his play on the field and his leadership in the locker room,’’ coach Mike Smith said. “You earn the right to be considered a guy that’s a leader of a football team. I think Sean is going through that process right now and he’s earned that right. He’s played well for us in both our base and sub packages. He’s not going to be a guy that’s not going to come off the field. He’s maturing on a number of fronts. He’s maturing on the football field and off the football field. Each year the roster changes and there are guys that are going to be thrust into that role of being a mentor. Sean is going to be one of those guys that everyone is going to be looking at and they’re going to respond the way that he responds to situations that occur on the practice field and in the games. I think he’s ready for it.’’