Friday October 9th, 2015 8:19AM

Falcons could start 5 or more rookies on defense

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Falcons are giving rookies bigger roles, especially on defense, down the stretch of a lost season.

Coach Mike Smith said the commitment to youth which was so obvious in last week's loss at Green Bay will continue on Sunday against Washington.

Smith continues to say his priority is to win this season and establish momentum for 2014. He acknowledges there could be uneven performances from 11 rookies, including some who are receiving increased playing time in the final month.

"They're going to go through growing pains," Smith said. "We're going to go through growing pains, but long-term I think it will be advantageous for us to get these ... as many snaps as we can."

Smith began to look for more help from first-year players and other backups as it became clear Atlanta (3-10) had no chance for a sixth-straight winning season.

The youth movement is especially obvious on defense, where five or more rookies could start against the Redskins. Three first-year defensive backs could start against newly installed Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins - cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and safety Zeke Motta.

The Falcons also list rookie linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow as starters. Two more 2013 draft picks, defensive ends Stansly Maponga and Malliciah Goodman, are in the playing rotation.

The matchup of last-place teams could be an ideal scenario for Cousins.

"They're in a similar position as us, being what their record is," Cousins said Wednesday in a teleconference with Atlanta media. "They do have some younger players in the rotation more often than they did earlier in the year.

"I think at this point in Week 15 the rookie label starts to mean a little bit less because these guys have accumulated a lot of playing time now. As the first season winds down, the fact that they're rookies doesn't carry as much weight as it did in Week 1 or 2 or 3."

The emphasis on youth gained momentum last week when veteran cornerback Asante Samuel was healthy but benched in favor of Alford, who previously had been a regular only in nickel packages. Trufant, a first-round pick, has been a starter all season.

"I feel we're doing good," Trufant said. "A lot of guys are having their numbers called and they're stepping up. We've just got to continue going and continue to get experience and make plays."

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said the strong impact by the rookies has been "awesome."

"You see so much promise in them and you see how far they've grown since the beginning," Weatherspoon said. "You know you are a part of something that's going to be special and you're just looking forward to seeing them continue to grow and just playing them a little more is going to make myself and some of the older guys that much more comfortable with them."

Motta could start against Washington after Thomas DeCoud left last week's game with a concussion.

It was the first time this season Samuel has not played when healthy.

"It was tough," Samuel said Wednesday. "I'm a competitor. I love to compete."

Smith said Samuel is still contributing as a leader.

"Asante is a team player," Smith said. "Asante is a mentor to these guys and he'll continue to be that. I think Asante, like a lot of guys on this team, they understand the situation that we're in and they understand there are some guys who have worked hard who deserve an opportunity to play."

Worrilow led the team with 12 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks against the Packers. Worrilow, who was an undrafted college free agent from Delaware, has posted 10 or more tackles in six straight games. He is challenging safety William Moore for the team lead in tackles.

Bartu, offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and wide receiver Darius Johnson also are undrafted rookies. Schraeder, from Valdosta State, did not start last week but played 71 percent of the snaps.

NOTES: DeCoud (concussion) and RB Antone Smith (knee) were held out Wednesday. Among players who were limited due to injuries were TE Tony Gonzalez (toe), WR Roddy White (knee) and LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee).
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 1 year ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 1 year ago )
Falcons fire offensive, defensive line coaches
The Atlanta Falcons have fired defensive line coach Ray Hamilton and offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn.
7:02PM ( 1 year ago )
Best, worst of Falcons' 4-12 season
Best Game: They'd been eliminated from playoff contention previous week vs. New Orleans, but the Falcons showed some heart with Dec. 1 overtime victory over Bills in Toronto.
6:21PM ( 1 year ago )
Gonzalez's career ends with another Falcons loss
Tony Gonzalez is ready for the next chapter of his life.
9:47PM ( 1 year ago )
Professional Sports
(VIDEO) Game of the Week: GHS-Lanier to slug it out for 8-AAAAA supremacy
Both Gainesville and Lanier football hope to answer big questions on Friday night...
8:58PM ( 12 hours from now )
(VIDEO) Week 7: Area teams facing playoff-like scenarios as region races heat up
The official start of the high school football playoffs isn't for another month. However, some area teams, it amy actually begin this Friday.
8:25PM ( 12 hours from now )
Falcons' Roddy White upbeat after meeting with Quinn
Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White returned to the team Thursday and said he was encouraged about his role following a meeting with coach Dan Quinn.
10:32AM ( 2 hours from now )
NASCAR Notebook: Harvick set for next leg of Chase
Kevin Harvick claims he feels pressure. But it doesn’t seem like it. In a must-win situation on Sunday at Dover, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion led 355-of-400 laps on his way to victory lane.
By NASCAR Wire Service
8:00AM ( 19 minutes ago )
Volleyball: Lady Vikings claim second straight 7-AAA crown
The East Hall volleyball team savored a second straight Area 7-AAA championship on Thursday after sweeping past Lumpkin County and West Hall in Rabbittown.
By AccessWDUN Staff
1:34AM ( 6 hours ago )