Running back Steven Jackson (39) is among one of the many injured players the Falcons have to replace as they head to South Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Daniel Shirey)
The untold story of the Falcons’ rise to prominence in the NFC under head coach Mike Smith has been the team’s relative good health.
Part of the reason why Smith has been able to put together five straight winning seasons and make four trips to the playoffs has been the team’s lack of injuries.
The odds seemed to catch up with the Falcons all in one game. They lost four starters against the Rams and have two other starters severely limited. They could go to Miami without six players.
The Falcons’ backups, who will fill in for four departed starters, will be on the hot seat against the Dolphins.
Linebacker Joplo Bartu, an undrafted rookie from Texas State, will take over at weak-side linebacker for Sean Weatherspoon, who’s out for eight weeks because of a foot injury.
Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will take over Kroy Biermann’s role. Biermann was placed on injured reserve with a torn right Achilles tendon.
Fullbacks Jason Snelling and Patrick DiMarco could split the fullback chores of Bradie Ewing, who was placed on injured reserve with a separated left shoulder.
Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers will try to pick up the slack for running back Steven Jackson, who’s out with a hamstring injury.
Bartu has the biggest shoes to fill.
“I’m looking forward to proving everybody wrong that doubted me,” Bartu said. “I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.”
Bartu, 22, got off to a good start against the Rams. Forced to play 63 snaps after Weatherspoon left the game with a foot injury, Bartu responded with six tackles, including two for loss, and a quarterback hit.
Now, he will start at outside linebacker. It’s a rapid ascension for a player who was just trying to make the team in training camp.
“At the end of the day, it’s just football,” Bartu said. “When you’ve been playing football for so long, no matter if it’s 2,000 people watching or 80,000 people watching, it’s (still) just football.”
At Texas State, Bartu said he played defensive end on passing downs as a junior and again when injuries left the team thin on the line early in his senior season.
Bartu impressed Falcons coaches with his pass-coverage ability during training camp. Against the Rams, Bartu also flashed instincts playing the run and made some sure tackles in the open field.
“He did a very good job,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “I would hope for him to do the same and keep getting better.”
Massaquoi also has a major task in attempting to replace the steady Biermann.
“People can expect me to play that role the same, if not the same then greater,” said Massaquoi, a second-year player. “As the next man up, you have to keep the tempo and the pace almost as though no one has left.
Massaquoi believes that he can help the Falcons anemic pass rush, which has registered two sacks, both by defensive tackles.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series 7-4. The Falcons have won the last two meetings. They defeated the Dolphins 19-7 on Nov. 16, 2009 and 17-10 on Sept. 13, 2005.