Ulbrich: ‘Cream will rise’ at linebacker for Falcons

Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is overseeing the revamping of the unit this offseason.

The Falcons used two high draft picks, signed three free agents and moved last season’s first-round pick, Vic Beasley, to linebacker.

The Falcons didn’t re-sign linebackers O’Brien Schofield (11 starts in 2015), Justin Durant (12 starts) and Kroy Biermann. Reserve linebacker Nate Stupar signed with the Saints in free agency.

Paul Worrilow, the team’s leading tackler is back, and Brooks Reed has slimmed down and will get a look a defensive end. The Falcons also re-signed Philip Wheeler, who was a mid-season pickup in 2015.

With all of the moving parts, Ulbrich’s work likely holds the key to how much better the Falcons’ defense will be in 2016.

“They are going to make the plans,” Ulbrich told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m just going to let the thing unfold. I’m going to push them every day…. The cream will rise.”

Ulbrich could go with a veteran group of Wheeler at strongside, Worrilow at middle linebacker and Sean Weatherspoon at weakside.

He could throw out a youngster crew of Beasley at strongside, rookie Deion Jones at middle linebacker and rookie De’Vondre Campbell at weakside linebacker.

Ulbrich has been pleased with the play of Jones and Campbell, who were drafted in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Campbell worked with the first-team defense during last week’s open OTA session.

“They are looking good,” Ulbrich said. “Both of them. I think as far as the learning curve of most rookies, I think they are above that. It’s been really fun to see them push these older guys out here on the practice field every day and in the meeting the room.”

Ulbrich is not worried about the depth chart, right now.

“We’ve created enough competition that whatever three backers start for us, they are going to be good ones,” Ulbrich said.

Weatherspoon was re-signed after spending a season Arizona.

“He’s doing well,” Ulbrich said. “He’s right in the mix with all of those guys. They are all competing.

“Obviously, he’s picking up the system just like these rookies are. It’s still new to him. He’s got a great attitude and I think he’s found a new level of maturity in his career. It’s going to be fun to see how that shakes out.”

Worrilow has a better understanding of the defense and that he has help behind him.

“I think, and this is big-time my fault, the fact that I didn’t emphasize it enough, man you’ve got help, so take your shot to your leverage,” Ulbrich said. “If you miss him away from your leverage, then that guy will make the play. We’ll live with that.

“He’s so conscientious, he just wants to do everything right. We just have to let him shoot his gun a little more. I think you’re going to see a better version of him because of that.”

The Falcons also signed veteran linebacker LaRoy Reynolds this offseason.

“I’ve been really pleased with his performance,” defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. “He’s going to push hard. Not only is he a really good special teams player, but he’s been making plays the last few days on the ball. He’s really impressed me.”

The Falcons are doing a lot of experimenting this offseason. In addition to Reed and Beasley floating from strongside to defensive end, Courtney Upshaw, a strongside backer by trade, is playing defensive end.

“What we’ve done is we have a really good plan for the (strongside) linebackers and those guys who are also nickel rushers,” Smith said. “What we do is spend a lot of time with them in the meeting rooms with them, we split the meetings up with them from a (strongside) position compared to the nickel rushers.”

Smith likes Beasley’s progress.

“Not only him, but the others guys like (Tyler) Starr and Ivan (McLennan) is a real young kid that we have to take a look at in (exhibition) season,” Smith said. “He does have some pass rush ability.”