Head coach Mike Smith has always said players become leaders, they are never anointed leaders.
The Falcons don't lack any veteran leadership on their club, but every coach wants a young player to step into leadership roles as well. Younger players are sometimes more capable of mentoring rookies and first- or second-year players because of how close they are to those same experiences.
The Falcons re-signed Mike Peterson earlier this week and he's provided leadership to the defense for years, but third-year linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is emerging as one of the true, vocal leaders on D. His role as a leader will be especially important to middle linebacker Akeem Dent, who is well on his way toward winning the starting middle linebacker position.
"Sean Weatherspoon is emerging as a leader (at linebacker) as well," Smith said on Thursday. "He's played a lot of football games, he's going to be able to help Akeem Dent in his maturation process because he's just a year or two removed from what Akeem's going to be going through this year."
Weatherspoon sees his position as a necessary place for leadership to come from and it's a role he wants to embrace.
"I feel like we have a lot of leaders, but I definitely feel like being a linebacker that is kind of your role to be a leader of the defense," he said. "I'm trying to step up and relish that role and at the same time continue to make plays. I'm just trying to be better than what I was last year."
As long as Peterson is around, the torch may never fully be passed on to Weatherspoon, but the young linebacker is doing what he can to impact the defense with his style of play and style of leadership.
"I just try to put my personality on it," he said. "I wouldn't say I stamp it, but I'm working toward it. I'm just trying to keep working so I can go ahead and officially become the leader."