FLOWERY BRANCH — Sean Weatherspoon is out and Joplo Bartu is in at linebacker for the Falcons.
That means they are losing a first-round pick, three-year starter and defensive captain and replacing him with a rookie who played at Texas State and didn’t get drafted.
Bartu knows how it looks and said he’s ready to show he belongs.
“I’m looking forward to proving everybody wrong that doubted me,” Bartu said. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.”
Bartu, 22, got off to a good start against the Rams. Forced to play 63 snaps after Weatherspoon left the game with a foot injury, Bartu responded with six tackles, including two for loss, and a quarterback hit.
Now Weatherspoon will miss eight weeks with his injury, and Bartu is in line to start at outside linebacker. It’s a rapid ascension for a player who was just trying to make the team in training camp.
“At the end of the day, it’s just football,” Bartu said. “When you’ve been playing football for so long, no matter if it’s 2,000 people watching or 80,000 people watching, it’s (still) just football.”
At Texas State, Bartu said he played defensive end on passing downs as a junior and again when injuries left the team thin on the line early in his senior season.
Bartu impressed Falcons coaches with his pass-coverage ability during training camp. Against the Rams, Bartu also flashed instincts playing the run and made some sure tackles in the open field.
“He did a very good job,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “I would hope for him to do the same and keep getting better. That’s the thing with the young guys. I’d be disappointed if they just kind of settled in thinking they’ve arrived.”
INJURY REPORT: Left tackle Sam Baker, wide receiver Roddy White and cornerback Asante Samuel sat out practice with injuries Wednesday.
Samuel didn’t play in the season opener at New Orleans and lasted seven plays against the Rams before leaving with a thigh injury. He originally hurt the leg early in the third exhibition game at Tennessee on Aug. 24.
Baker played against the Rams with a balky knee and is listed with a foot ailment on the team’s injury report. Baker struggled in pass protection against the Rams, with four quarterback hits and six pressures allowed on 47 pass plays, according to profootballfocus.com.
“I thought Sam did a good job in terms of gutting it out because he did not get a whole lot of practice time,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
With Baker out, Lamar Holmes moved from right tackle to left during practice, and Jeremy Trueblood was at right tackle.
White played in each of the first two games, but saw his play count drop from 66 percent at New Orleans in the opener to 54 percent against the Rams. White said he suffered a high ankle sprain during an exhibition game Aug. 15.
Four Falcons players practiced on a limited basis Wednesday: linebacker Akeem Dent (shoulder), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), center Peter Konz (knee) and defensive end Cliff Matthews (neck). All four players played against the Rams.
Running back Steven Jackson has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against Miami. The Falcons said earlier in the week Jackson suffered a thigh injury against the Rams, but he’s listed on the injury report with a hamstring ailment.
NEW GUYS: Rookies Bartu and Paul Worrilow will join veterans Stephen Nicholas and Dent in the linebacker rotation, but the Falcons also signed veteran free agents Jamar Chaney and Omar Gaither as reinforcements. Both players got a heavy dose of the playbook and practiced with the team Wednesday.
Gaither, 29, has 44 career starts in 84 games from 2006-12 for Philadelphia, Carolina and Oakland.
“Not the whole playbook, but a few things,” Gaither said when asked how much the Falcons threw at him Wednesday. “You want to be able to get lined up and play. I feel like that one of my strengths is being intelligent and learning defenses fast. I look forward to the challenge.”
Chaney, 26, started 23 of 44 games for the Eagles the past three seasons.
“I’ve got a lot of experience on defense, a lot of experience on special teams,” Chaney said. “I’ve played all three linebacker positions (in) pretty much any defense.”