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Can Another Undrafted Player Fill Falcons' Need At Linebacker?


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Can another undrafted player fill Falcons' need at linebacker?




  • Vaughn McClure, ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter




Near the end of the NFL draft Saturday, former North Texas linebacker Derek Akunne began receiving text messages from Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich.


The 5-foot-11, 234-pound Akunne anticipated going undrafted, but he wasn't exactly sure which team would be interested in him as a free agent. Ulbrich brought clarity to the situation.


"He was saying that they needed linebackers, and he said that he thought I could come help bring the defense back to where it needs to be," said Akunne, who signed with the Falcons. "I think it's a good opportunity for me to come in and show them I can help them out. I'm just excited to get this chance."



The Falcons filled defensive needs in the draft, just not at inside linebacker. They showed interest in players such as UCLA's Eric Kendricks (Vikings), TCU's Paul Dawson (Bengals) and Miami'sDenzel Perryman (Chargers) throughout the draft process. However, nothing ever materialized.


"We feel like we've continued to focus on that through free agency, and we definitely looked at it in the draft," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of the inside linebacker spots. "Sometimes it's the way the draft falls, as you can imagine. There were certain parts of the linebacker setup that maybe there weren't as many linebackers out there that we thought were fitting what we were looking for at certain spots.


"We think we have a nice, evolving linebacker group here with the additions of what we did in free agency. And we have a **** good coach in Jeff Ulbrich."


The continued development of Paul Worrilow as a workhorse and leader makes the Falcons more comfortable about what they have, at least at middle linebacker. Worrilow has slimmed down to 235 pounds and his relentless work ethic has caught the attention of the coaches.


"He's another player when I think of grit, I think of Paul Worrilow and the toughness, the attitude," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "He might as well be part of the coaching staff. When I come here in the morning, he's just right about to walk into the door at the same time. I love his attitude. I love his style, and I can't wait to get started with him. As a football player, you love all the traits about him. ... He's off to a great start. He really is."


Remember, Worrilow came to the Falcons two years ago as an undrafted signee out of Delaware. Since then, he's started 28 games and led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons.


Could Akunne be the next Worrilow? That's what he's aiming to be. The former high school offensive tackle led Conference USA with 108 tackles last season. He finished his career with 308 tackles and 23 tackles for loss.


Akunne said he talked to the Falcons about playing the "Mike" or "Will," the inside linebacker spots in their scheme.


"I think my biggest assets as a player are my intelligence and my toughness," Akunne said. "I'm not afraid to hit somebody anywhere -- defense, special teams. I just want to hit somebody."


Akunne needs to make a strong impression during rookie minicamp. He leaves for Atlanta on Thursday and then has to rush back to school after the three-day minicamp for final exams.


He hopes to ace his test with the Falcons first.


"I really wasn't bothered about not getting drafted," Akunne said. "I just want an opportunity, however I can get it."



Should be interesting to see what he can bring to the table. The guy sounds hungry for the oppurtunity.


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you all keep hating on Worrilow, I think he will prove the haters wrong.

It's stupid. They hate on him because PFF says he's the worst LB in the league as of last year. Their don't tend to use their brains though.

Worrilow, as with other front seven guys, were asked to bulk up because we were transitioning to a 3-4 defense, where you need bigger ILBs to take on OL. Then we run a 4-2-5 base and ask our LBs to cover a ton of ground with this extra weight while also trying to stop the run with a 6 man box.

Yea...

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We still need a real backup MLB behind Worr. Spruill will get a shot, and so will this guy. It'll be an interesting battle to watch.

we brought in that dude from Seattle.

Allen bradford, tho he might play WLB in this scheme.

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we brought in that dude from Seattle.

Allen bradford, tho he might play WLB in this scheme.

Yeah there are a number of guys that could compete for the position. It's pretty nice to finally have actual competition at depth spots.

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I like Akunne a lot. This isn't hate on Worrilow at all, I'm a big supporter. But I want Akunne to make the roster.

Here are some highlights for those interested. He'll decleat some people. Kid is straight up violent.

If Q can't find great ways to take advantage of this guy's quickness I'll be the most shocked guy in the ATL.

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you all keep hating on Worrilow, I think he will prove the haters wrong.

I dont hate him, i actually admire his work ethic (probably the best in the team) and appears to be a good leader, but i think he just doesnt have starter quality. PFF ranking him 2nd worst LB last year only confirmed what we saw on tv. Slow, cant shed blocks and misses tackles. Quinn scheme and improved DL should help him but im not expecting nothing more than average play from him

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I dont hate him, i actually admire his work ethic (probably the best in the team) and appears to be a good leader, but i think he just doesnt have starter quality. PFF ranking him 2nd worst LB last year only confirmed what we saw on tv. Slow, cant shed blocks and misses tackles. Quinn scheme and improved DL should help him but im not expecting nothing more than average play from him

Smith asked him to bulk up to play 3-4 ILB, now he slimmed down to have more mobility. Our D-line was **** last year which makes everyone else play bad too. Cant always blame the player.

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