Today the Atlanta Falcons announced that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles tendon and is expected to miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon suffered the injury while running with the team’s training staff earlier today. Weatherspoon was in the process of rehabbing a knee injury that ended his 2013 season, having opted against offseason knee surgery to repair the injury. Weatherspoon also missed time in 2013 with a foot injury, which landed him on the teams’ short-term injured reserve for half the season.
Weatherspoon, nicknamed “Spoon,” is the team’s most vocal leader on defense and with the departure of Stephen Nicholas, was on the verge of becoming the “old man” of the linebacker group at the age 26. Spoon’s absence is a substantial blow to the position group as well as the defense as a whole.
In his absence, Joplo Bartu is likely to fill in as the team’s weak-side linebacker in their 4-3 sets, as well as inside when the team employs 3-4 looks. During Spoon’s early-season absence in 2013, Paul Worrilow filled in at that position but will be expected to start at middle linebacker in both sets this year. Spoon’s injury will open up opportunities for rookies like Marquis Spruill, Yawin Smallwood, and Prince Shembo, who is getting more looks at inside linebacker than outside. The injury also increases the chances that Akeem Dent, a bubble player, could stick on the team given the lack of experienced depth. The Falcons may seek to add veteran help to bolster the position given the relative youth and inexperience of the current players on the roster.
While the team is currently ruling out Spoon to play in 2014, it may be possible that he could return late in the season. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered an Achilles tear last season in late May and returned to the 49ers at the start of December, roughly missing six full months. In 2012, Baltimore Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in early May and returned to the field in late October, again roughly a six-month absence. Such a prognosis would indicate that the earliest Spoon could return is mid-December, but given the fact that he was already not fully recovered from a knee injury likely throws such optimism out the window. Both Crabtree and Suggs were completely healthy at the time of their injuries.