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Atlanta's Weatherspoon missing veterans at mini-camp
Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left, and head coach Mike Smith take in the action during the NFL football team's minicamp in Flowery Branch, Ga., on Sunday, May 9, 2010. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon wishes the Atlanta Falcons' rookie mini-camp included a few veterans.

His mentor, 12-year NFL starting linebacker Mike Peterson, wasn't nearby to tell the 19th overall draft pick where to line up.

"You could definitely tell the veterans were not out here," Weatherspoon said Monday. "You couldn't see exactly how the coaching staff does things, and that made it a little tougher on us. We've been off for a week, so hopefully we'll get back in the swing of things and have a foundation to get better tomorrow.

Falcons coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder used a similar scenario from the three-day mini-camp that veterans and rookies participated in together earlier this month.

Weatherspoon played strongside linebacker on Monday, and he will move to weakside on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, his learning curve is still steep.

"I don't know when it will become second nature," Weatherspoon said. "Right now, I'm hearing the call and just going over my responsibility in my head. I see what formation the offense is in, go over my responsibility and just try to do the right techniques. Right now it's kind of slow, but as I go on and get more repetitions it'll get better."

Smith, the only coach in Falcons history to lead the team to consecutive winning seasons, knows Weatherspoon's success on the field could determine how much Atlanta improves after struggling badly against the pass last year.

The Falcons ranked 28th in passing yardage allowed and were tied for 26th in sacks. They gave up 55 completions of 20 or more yards, sixth-most in the NFL.

Weatherspoon's potential in coverage was a big reason general manager Thomas Dimitroff drafted the former Missouri standout so high. But expectations are high for defensive tackle Corey Peters, drafted in the third round out of Kentucky, also.

"It's a chance for them to get up to speed as quickly as possible," Smith said. "Whether they had to cram for a test in college with a lot of information they had to digest, this is the biggest cram they're ever going to have. They need to really get in here these next seven days, until next Monday, and get as much information as they can about our system."

Weatherspoon's last two seasons at Missouri resulted in 9.5 sacks and 33 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Nobody expects him to produce those kinds of numbers in the NFL, but he believes the Falcons will be pleased to have him on their team.

"There are high expectations," Weatherspoon said. "You have to pick up things really quickly. Today was pretty a review of the first two practices (of the first two mini-camp sessions earlier this month). Playing linebacker, you're particularly going to be looked at when things are going wrong. You have to make sure everyone's on the same page."

Peters also acknowledged the difficulty of running plays with the veterans.

"I was OK at first, but once they dialed it up and started putting up different blitzes," Peters said. "Everything kind of jumbles together. Everything sounds the same when you're running full speed with these guys. You don't have time to think about stuff. You've got to know it right away."