Peterson takes mentor role

Mike Peterson
Mike Peterson

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson started every game in 2009, his first season with Atlanta, and was second on the team with 140 tackles.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, May 10, 2010 at 1:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 10, 2010 at 1:14 p.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Former Gator Mike Peterson, the self-proclaimed "Daddy Lion" of the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers, didn't wait long to assign his new protege a nickname.

"I'm calling him 'Baby Lion' right now," Peterson said. I'm the Daddy Lion. He's the baby."

First-round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon stayed close to Peterson, a 12-year veteran, in Friday's opening session of the team's minicamp. When Weatherspoon came off the field, he stood beside Peterson on the sideline, listening as the veteran reviewed the rookie's reps.

Baby Lion?

Smart rookies don't argue with nicknames assigned by veterans, especially on the first day of minicamp. A smiling Weatherspoon wisely chose to extend the analogy.

Said Weatherspoon: "I don't have a mane like his yet."

Weatherspoon — at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds — comes to the NFL with big expectations which may include him taking some playing time from Peterson or another outside linebacker, Stephen Nicholas.

Peterson, who will be 34 this season, says that possibility won't stop him from doing whatever he can to help prepare Weatherspoon for his rookie season.

"I understand the business," Peterson said. "I want to help the team out. That's what I'm all about. I didn't come here to try to play 2000 plays. I came here to try to win the Super Bowl. Whatever my role will be, I'm ready for it."

Weatherspoon, the former Missouri star, was assigned No. 56 — the number previously worn by former longtime Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, now with Dallas. Brooking, the No. 12 overall pick in the 1998 draft, was the last linebacker taken in the first round by Atlanta before general manager Thomas Dimitroff made Weatherspoon the No. 19 selection last month.

Friday was Weatherspoon's first chance to display the athleticism which won over Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith.

"Young guy can run," said Peterson when asked for his first impression of the rookie. "I'm pretty sure he can hit."

Smith said Weatherspoon has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends on passing downs, a weak area last season as the Falcons ranked No. 28 in pass defense.

"You've got to have athletic type linebackers who can match those kinds of athletes," Smith said after the draft. "Sean definitely has those skills."

Smith was reluctant to evaluate the rookies after one practice, but he said he liked seeing Weatherspoon serve as Peterson's shadow.

"Most definitely," Smith said. "We want the young guys to get with a mentor and there's a lot of guys who fit that role for Sean."

Peterson started every game in 2009, his first season with Atlanta, and was second on the team with 140 tackles. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton led the team with 160 stops in his second season.

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