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Falcons LB Paul Worrilow learning MMA to improve tackling

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The veteran may put up a fight in his upcoming training camp battle.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Worrilow has had an uneven career in Atlanta. The undrafted free agent came out of nowhere and easily outperformed Akeem Dent. While far from an all star, he made a name for himself by tackling better and making more impact plays than Atlanta's former starter.

A few seasons later, and Worrilow has not made much progress. He added weight, which appeared to zap his already limited speed. And his tackling oddly grew worse. The impact plays disappeared. The veteran has gotten blown up at the middle linebacker spot, and he has frequently been a liability all across the board. Dan Quinn used two of his first four draft picks on linebacker, and it is believed that Worrilow will need a good camp to keep the speedy Deion Jones on the bench.

Worrilow's response has been to train with MMA fighters to improve his poor tackling. ESPN's Vaughn McClure had the exclusive.

The MMA and Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach [Phillipe Gentry] catered a program to Worrilow’s desire to improve his tackling, meaning hourlong sessions twice a week in which Worrilow would absorb instruction from Gentry and spar with Jared Gooden, a local MMA fighter with a 5-0 professional record. "I’d go in there and we’re working grappling and wrestling leverage," Worrilow said. "As close to tackling as you can get is wrestling and trying to take somebody down who doesn’t want to be taken down … just like football."

This is an impressive dedication from Worrilow, who admitted that his critics (that's me!) have grown frustrated with his missed tackles and coverage missteps. He correctly identified that he has struggled mightily in tackling, and found an MMA trainer that will help him improve in the offseason. Kroy Biermann had probably the best season of his career after spending his offseason MMA training, and Worrilow likely hopes to follow in his footsteps.

"This offseason, tackling has been the biggest thing for me. I don’t think I've ever put so much emphasis on tackling in an offseason. I’m excited about it because that will help all aspects – coverage too. When you can really trust that you can come down on a checkdown in the open field and make the tackle, that helps your coverage. You can really trust that you can sit in your zone or really follow your keys. … Tackling is going to go a long way for me. And I can already feel the changes in my game."

Worrilow has a lot riding on improving his tackling. He is under contract for only one more season, and will need a good year to guarantee a shot at starting next season, either in Atlanta or elsewhere. He is not going to turn into a speedy linebacker, but becoming a competent tackler will go a long way in his NFL future.