FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - A familiar face returned to the practice field for the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon suited up for his first appearance since a foot injury in Week 2 sent him to the inactive list.
Weatherspoon is still not eligible to play in this weekend's game against the Seattle Seahawks, though he said he feels good enough to take the field. If all goes well in practice, he could return for the Nov. 17 contest at Tampa Bay.
The Falcons were 1-1 on the day Weatherspoon was hurt. They have since slumped to 2-6, going from Super Bowl contenders to a team that probably must win out to have any chance of making the playoffs.
"It's been pretty tough," Weatherspoon said. "I love to play football. To take that away makes it a little bit rough. I think the guys have stepped in there and done some promising things. We've got to build off that and try to get a win this week."
Clearly, the Atlanta defense will be more imposing with Weatherspoon in the middle, calling signals and serving as the vocal leader. Actually, said safety William Moore, the entire team will be better.
"That's his role on this team - to lead this whole football team, not just the defense," Moore said. "To have him back, I can't wait."
If not for injury list rules requiring him to sit out at least eight weeks (including a bye), Weatherspoon figures he would be ready to play Sunday against the Seahawks (8-1).
Still, he must show the team's training staff - and the coaches - he's fully recovered. Considering the way things have gone this season for the Falcons, there's no need to bring him back before he's 100 percent.
"I've been able to go out there and do some reaction drills," said Weatherspoon, a first-round pick of the Falcons in 2010. "Basically, I've been able to go play football without hitting people. I feel pretty confident where we are."
The 25-year-old is one of the most outspoken players on the team and a huge influence in the locker room. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had to tone him down during team meetings while he was injured, because Weatherspoon kept barking out the calls during film sessions.
"If I'm not going to be out there on the field, it does us no good if I'm doing it," he said.
Now, he can start yapping again.
The Falcons sure missed his voice.
"No doubt about it," Moore said. "That's going to be huge for us. Not only his play, but just his emotion, bringing all that back to the team. We missed that. We had guys who really don't talk a lot trying to step up and take his place."