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Falcons training camp battles: Who wins the weakside linebacker job?

It’s a battle between at least three players, but there’s a clear favorite for The Falcoholic’s staff.

Philip Wheeler Falcons Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike middle linebacker, where the competition is down to two guys with a third player sort of hanging around at the periphery, the Falcons’ weakside linebacker job should be a contentious one featuring several different players. Of course, only one can win.

Our writers took a hard look at a field that includes Sean Weatherspoon, Philip Wheeler, rookie De’Vondre Campbell, the loser of the middle linebacker battle (I guess that could happen), and the immortal Tyler Starr to determine who will win the starting job. Our best guesses are below.

Allen Strk

WLB: Phillip Wheeler

Besides the fourth receiver position, this is probably the most insignificant battle. There won’t be one true starting weak-side linebacker. Multiple linebackers will likely receive significant snaps at this position. If Sean Weatherspoon remains healthy, he should play in Atlanta’s nickel package. His versatility and range makes him a solid fit alongside potentially Deion Jones. Due to durability concerns, Weatherspoon can’t handle the responsibilities of a three-down linebacker. That leaves Philip Wheeler as the ideal starter in their base package. Barring an impressive preseason, De’Vondre Campbell is too raw at the moment. Unlike at middle linebacker, Dan Quinn has serviceable NFL weakside linebackers at his disposal.

Dave Choate

WLB: Philip Wheeler

A year after he joined the team as a street free agent and wound up earning significant snaps, Wheeler is the obvious favorite on the weakside. He’s a smart, fast linebacker who can cover a lot of distance and has Dan Quinn and company’s trust, and with an injury-ravaged Weatherspoon, an impressive De’Vondre Campbell coming in with some work to do in order to up his game, and not many other options under serious consideration, I fully expect Wheeler to win the job. If Campbell’s ready early, he may just not keep it all season.

William McFadden

WLB: Phillip Wheeler

I’m excited about the linebacker corps’ potential with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, but it’s probably good to use a little patience. Starting two rookies at linebacker is a risky proposition, and Campbell is still very raw at this point. It appears the Falcons’ best plan entering the season would be to have Phillip Wheeler man the weakside linebacker spot, while Campbell gets a better grip on the professional game. Wheeler is a competent player who should still provide value to the defense. It’s worth noting, however, that Quinn will likely rotate his linebackers plenty.

Kendall Jackson

WLB: De’Vondre Campbell

I’m going all in with the Falcons starting two rookie linebackers. Campbell gives the Falcons much-needed size and speed at the position. The downside is he apparently didn’t flash those linebacker instincts in college. Still, you can’t deny his athleticism, and he can rely on that a little until he gets a grasp of the game. I’m all for a rookie learning on the fly — particularly one with Campbell’s perceived upside.

The DW

WLB: Phillip Wheeler

Fans are intrigued by the potential of rookie De’Vondre Campbell and rightfully so. He also has rare physical traits that I think will make him an eventual starter. However, he’s still very raw and it’s highly doubtful the team will start two rookies in the linebacking corps. Wheeler played well down the stretch in 2015 and figures to be the veteran presence the coaching staff will want on the field. Sean Weatherspoon could challenge here as well, though I believe the coaches are higher on what Wheeler has to offer at this point.

Caleb Rutherford

WLB: De’Vondre Campbell

The Falcons drafted this guy primarily for one reason: cover RBs and TEs. We have been terrible at that for some time, and now that we have someone who can come in and do that, I expect him to start. That said, I don’t expect it to go all that well for about 8 games. By all accounts he’s a very bright kid, so I expect him to improve as the year progresses and really take the jump into next season.

Matthew Chambers

WLB: De’Vondre Campbell

If I share one similarity with the coaching staff, I have to think it is my combination of excitement for Campbell and disinterest in Wheeler. While the veteran looked good subbing in last season, Campbell has the unique size and speed combination that Dan Quinn loves. Also important: the WLB spot has less of a learning curve than other positions.