Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs, offensive line, wide receivers, tight ends, and defensive line.
We now move on to the linebackers.
The cast: Justin Durant (ninth season), Kroy Biermann (eighth season), O'Brien Schofield (sixth season), Allen Bradford (sixth season), Brooks Reed (fifth season), Nate Stupar (fourth season), Paul Worrilow (third season), Joplo Bartu (third season), Stansly Maponga (third season), Marquis Spruill (second season), Tyler Starr (second season), Vic Beasley (first season), Derek Akunne (first season), Boris Anyama (first season),
2015 cap numbers: Reed ($3,140,000), Beasley ($2,635,496), Durant ($2,210,416), Schofield ($1,700,000), Bradford ($660,000), Bartu ($586,667), Worrilow ($585,667), Stupar ($585,000), Starr ($521,474), Spruill ($477,870), Akunne ($435,667), Anyama ($435,000)
The coach: Jeff Ulbrich (first season with team)
Key number: Worrilow finished fifth in the NFL with 142 tackles last season and topped all inside linebackers with 1,034 snaps played.
For starters: Although Worrilow has led the team in tackles each of his first two NFL seasons, he has been the target of criticism for the plays he doesn't make. As he settles into the middle linebacker role in more of a 4-3 scheme, Worrilow has taken the necessarily steps this offseason to improve his mobility. The coaches trust in him because he's an intelligent player, so we'll see if he evolves into more of a playmaker. The veteran Durant steps in at weakside linebacker, and he's more than capable of making plays all over the field. Durant simply needs to remain healthy. He's already emerged as a vocal leader, something the Falcons needed following the departure of Sean Weatherspoon to the Arizona Cardinals. At strongside linebacker is Reed, a player known more for his run-stopping ability. A groin injury limited his participation during the offseason, so more about Reed will be revealed during training camp. Although the rookie Beasley views himself as an every-down player, the coaches won't force him into that role immediately. He'll play that hybrid, "leo" pass-rusher role under the tutelage of head coach Dan Quinn, who works exclusively with the leos. The Falcons need Beasley to play to his strength: getting after the quarterback.
Backup plan: Many wondered why the Falcons re-signed Biermann. The fact is, he wasn't brought back to be a starter. But Biermann, who led the team with 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for losses last season, will get a chance to rush on occasion from the leo while also getting an opportunity to play some strongside linebacker. He has to play solid when he gets his opportunities. Schofield, familiar with the scheme from his days alongside Quinn in Seattle, brings great speed off the edge and has the versatility to play both strongside linebacker and leo. Stupar, who could develop into a standout on special teams, has value on defense as a smart guy capable of playing all three linebacker positions. A sleeper to watch is Akunne, an undrafted player who could push for a roster spot. Bartu, who started 27 games the last two seasons, is on the roster bubble and brings no special-teams value. Maponga is on the outside looking in, too. And Spruill is an unknown, coming off an ACL repair.
Monday: Defensive backs