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Falcons LBs coach: Deion Jones will have to earn starting spot over Paul Worrilow

FLOWEY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is not ready to give up on Paul Worrilow as his starting middle linebacker despite the addition of speedy second-round draft pick Deion Jones.

Although Worrilow remained with the starters for the two sessions open to the media prior to this week, Ulbrich said Jones has gotten some first-team reps throughout organized team activities. But that's not a slight to Worrilow.

"Paul is a guy who is always evolving,'' Ulbrich said. ``He's always growing. He's always challenging himself. He's a guy who you can never count out. And for people to think that he's giving up his spot willingly, it ain't happening. So if someone beats him out, they're going to have to earn it.''

Worrilow, the team's leading tackler the past three seasons, aimed to clean up the tackles he's missed by working with an MMA trainer this offseason. Worrilow understands he's not the fastest guy on the field so he hopes an improved tackling technique will help his coverage skills improve.

Ulbrich was asked about Worrilow in coverage.

"Everybody has to work on everything,'' Ulbrich said. ``And everybody has to always improve. He understands that.''

As for the rookies, Ulbrich has been impressed with both Jones and fourth-round pick De'Vondre Campbell, who has seen extensive time with the first team at the Will linebacker spot.

``The beauty of it is we've finally created some real, authentic competition in this group,'' Ulbrich said. ``It will be fun to see the cream rise. The starting three will have to earn it.

``With both [Jones and Campbell], it's been their attitudes. A lot of rookies can be overwhelmed, and both of them have been steady, been great in the classroom. They've been able to apply it out here on the grass at a higher level than most rookies. ... Deion, with his closing and his quickness, it's different. And I think De'Vondre, his length and his speed have showed up.''

One other linebacker has been particularly impressive to Ulbrich.

``It would be a shame if I didn't mention Philip Wheeler,'' Ulbrich said. ``He is all in. He's all into the football, into the culture, and to everything this building wants to be about. He's the oldest guy in the room but is willing to do whatever it takes for the team. That's been cool.''

Wheeler is working as the first-team Sam linebacker in the base package, allowing Vic Beasley Jr. to slowly transition to the position while focusing on his nickel pass rush role.