Smith: Weatherspoon to practice soon

TAMPA, Fla. -- He was guarded, as always, when talking about injuries. But Atlanta coach Mike Smith expressed pretty strong optimism that outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be able to resume practicing this week.

It could even come Wednesday, but Smith wasn’t ready to tip his hand until the NFL deadline to put out injury reports later Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re anticipating him participating in practice this week, and we just have to see how he progresses,’’ Smith said in a conference call with the Tampa Bay media. “But we’re very optimistic in what he’s done in his rehabilitation and doing what he needs to do to get back out there.’’

Weatherspoon has missed the past three games with an ankle injury, and Atlanta’s defense -- particularly the run defense -- has struggled without him. Getting him back against Tampa Bay, a team that features running back Doug Martin who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage, would be a huge boost for the Atlanta defense.

“Sean is obviously one of the better players on our football team, and we’ve missed him since he was injured,’’ Smith said. “He’s a three-down linebacker that has earned the role of being the leader of our defense. He’s ascended to being our signal caller, and he makes a lot of adjustments out there, so it would be good to see him playing.’’

Smith also said he’s very optimistic about the chances of wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) practicing this week.