Falcons' Spencer Adkins to get his first NFL start

FLOWERY BRANCH — In a meeting room full of boisterous linebackers, Spencer Adkins has been as quiet as a church mouse the past three years.

But, don’t be fooled by Adkins’ soft-spoken nature.

“He is one of the quieter guys on D-Block, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be fired up this weekend,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “He played at [Miami] and you definitely have to have a little dark side to you if you played [there]. We look forward to Spence being out there. He’s a run-and-hit guy, and we look forward to seeing that.”

Because Mike Peterson suffered a torn tricep against the Saints on Monday night, Adkins will make his first NFL start Sunday when the Falcons (9-6) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) at 4:15 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.

Adkins, who has been inactive for five games this season, is embracing the playing opportunity. “I’ve been ready,” Adkins said. “I’ve been watching these guys that I’ve been behind. I’ve learned from them. I have just been preparing myself for this time.”

He knows that he will have to manage his emotions.

“It’s exciting every time I step on the field no matter what I’m doing,” Adkins said. “I’m definitely going to be excited, but I’m going to do my job. I’ve been there before.”

A sixth-round draft pick in 2009, Adkins played in five games as a rookie, nine games last season and 10 games this season. He had two tackles in the first meeting with Tampa Bay on Sept. 25.

“There’s no pressure,” he said. “It’s just the same as preseason games when I’ve taken all of the snaps. So there’s no pressure at all.”

Curtis Lofton will remain at middle linebacker and Weatherspoon at the weakside spot. Peterson had taken over for Stephen Nicholas, who has not played in the past two games because of a toe injury, at strongside linebacker.

“He’s ready to slide in,” Lofton said. “We won’t drop off or miss a step.”

Peterson, who was in his 13th season, was playing well. He had 13 tackles against Houston. His torn tricep will require surgery.

“No one can replace Pete,” Lofton said. “He brings a certain swagger and nasty attitude. He’s irreplaceable. I love having him out there.”

Adkins was a mainstay at the workouts at Buford High that the players conducted during the lockout. He won over Lofton, who called the defensive signals, there.

“He makes plays,” Lofton said. “He’s been getting a little work here and there. He’ll be ready to go.”

The linebackers knew something was wrong with Peterson after the Saints’ game.

“He was banged up a little bit,” Weatherspoon said. “He went in the training room a few times. I didn’t know it was that serious. I just wish him the best. It was a season-ending injury right before the playoffs. It is kind of tough on him.”

Peterson sort of adopted Weatherspoon and took him under his wings last season.

“He’s been integral in my development,” Weatherspoon said. “Whenever I’m doing something wrong, he’d pull me to the side. He’s helped me a lot.”

Rookie Akeem Dent, who’s spent the season working at middle linebacker, will get some practice time at strongside linebacker.

“[Dent] had not cross-trained at that position, so Akeem’s now got to be ready to go and, of course, Robert [James] has played the [weakside] inebacker for us,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Again, we’ve always got to have guys cross-trained. ... We’ve got to have some guys get caught up and up to speed at different positions.”

Smith hopes that Nicholas is available for the playoffs.

“He’s progressing well with his rehabilitation, and we certainly hope that 14 days will give us a chance to have him back,” Smith said.