FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Mike Peterson, the self-proclaimed "Daddy Lion" of the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers, didn't wait long to assign his new protege a nickname.
"I'm calling him 'Baby Lion' right now," Peterson said. I'm the Daddy Lion. He's the baby."
First-round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon stayed close to Peterson, a 12-year veteran, in Friday's opening session of the team's minicamp. When Weatherspoon came off the field, he stood beside Peterson on the sideline, listening as the veteran reviewed the rookie's reps.
Smart rookies don't argue with nicknames assigned by veterans, especially on the first day of minicamp. A smiling Weatherspoon wisely chose to extend the analogy.
Said Weatherspoon: "I don't have a mane like his yet."
Weatherspoon — at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds — comes to the NFL with big expectations which may include him taking some playing time from Peterson or another outside linebacker, Stephen Nicholas.
Peterson, who will be 34 this season, says that possibility won't stop him from doing whatever he can to help prepare Weatherspoon for his rookie season.
"I understand the business," Peterson said. "I want to help the team out. That's what I'm all about. I didn't come here to try to play 2000 plays. I came here to try to win the Super Bowl. Whatever my role will be, I'm ready for it."
Weatherspoon, the former Missouri star, was assigned No. 56 — the number previously worn by former longtime Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, now with Dallas. Brooking, the No. 12 overall pick in the 1998 draft, was the last linebacker taken in the first round by Atlanta before general manager Thomas Dimitroff made Weatherspoon the No. 19 selection last month.
Friday was Weatherspoon's first chance to display the athleticism which won over Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith.
"Young guy can run," said Peterson when asked for his first impression of the rookie. "I'm pretty sure he can hit."
Smith said Weatherspoon has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends on passing downs, a weak area last season as the Falcons ranked No. 28 in pass defense.
"You've got to have athletic type linebackers who can match those kinds of athletes," Smith said after the draft. "Sean definitely has those skills."
Smith was reluctant to evaluate the rookies after one practice, but he said he liked seeing Weatherspoon serve as Peterson's shadow.
"Most definitely," Smith said. "We want the young guys to get with a mentor and there's a lot of guys who fit that role for Sean."
Peterson started every game in 2009, his first season with Atlanta, and was second on the team with 140 tackles. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton led the team with 160 stops in his second season.
The Falcons' 2010 draft class, the third for Dimitroff and Smith, also included defensive tackle Corey Peters of Kentucky in the third round, followed by offensive guard Mike Johnson of Alabama, UNLV center Joe Hawley, cornerback and return specialist Dominique Franks of Oklahoma, Kansas receiver Kerry Meier and Montana safety Shann Schillinger.
"I think it's a solid group," Smith said. "Our roster is getting deeper and deeper, and the deeper your roster gets, the more competition you're going to have. To me that's a great thing."
Cornerback Dunta Robinson, who signed a six-year, $57 million deal in March after six seasons with Houston, also made his practice debut.
Smith said Robinson showed "about what we saw on film, a very hyper, very competitive player."
"Even though we were not in full pads, you can see he's going to be a physical football player," Smith said. "I like his size, I like his length and he'll be a great addition to our young guys back there both on and off the field."
NOTES: DT Peria Jerry (knee), WR Harry Douglas (knee), CB Brian Williams (knee) and S William Moore (hamstring) were held out of team drills as they continue to recover from 2009 injuries. ... TE Colin Peek, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, made a one-handed catch while backpedaling in the middle of the field for one of the day's highlights.