Bartu Has High Hopes as Final Cuts Loom

Bartu Has High Hopes as Final Cuts Loom

Jay Adams

Published August 27, 2013 at 11:06 AM

The hill to climb for undrafted rookies in the NFL is usually steep and not without its pitfalls and hazards. The odds of landing a practice squad spot, let alone a place on the 53-man roster, are great considering the amount and level of competition undrafted rookies face in the whirlwind of months from just after the draft to league-mandated cut dates.

So, when one of those players spends a week running with the first-team defense in substitution packages, it tends to raise a few eyebrows, and that’s what happened with linebacker Joplo Bartu last week as the Falcons prepared for the Titans.

It resulted in Bartu seeing the field during a time in the third preseason game that is usually reserved for starters, or those vying for starting spots.

“I was just trying to learn from mistakes, trying to help out, get help from Spoon (Sean Weatherspoon), Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent,” Bartu said after Saturday’s game. “They’ve been helping out a lot on my techniques and stuff, so I was just learning from them as I was going with the ones throughout the week.”

That seemed to pay off when it came to game time against the Titans. It didn’t take long for Bartu to enter the game as head coach Mike Smith said the young linebacker was used in the dime position for defensive packages that require the spot. Bartu played 46 percent of the defensive snaps against Tennessee and finished with four tackles and a forced fumble that the Falcons recovered.

“We wanted to see how he handled it; I thought he handled it pretty well,” Smith said Monday. “He had a nice forced fumble on the quarterback scramble. He did some things in coverage that we liked. We are just trying to put together and mix and match right now what we feel like is going to give us the best opportunity to put the guys in the best positions. I’m very impressed with the way he handled his role in our nickel package.”

Perhaps in coverage is where Bartu’s presence can be felt the most. While he hasn’t put up Paul Worrilow-type numbers when it comes to tackles, he’s been extremely strong in coverage.

There’s something to that. Bartu said when he came into Texas State as a freshman, he played free safety, so his coverage skills were developed there before he was eventually moved to linebacker — a position he would impress at.

Bartu earned All-WAC second-team honors after posting 95 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2012. He finished his collegiate career with 62 tackles in his final four games, including 17 tackles and four sacks in a win over New Mexico State.

Let those statistics settle in.

Bartu has one more game to show what he can do and it’s a safe bet that he’ll see a fair amount of playing time since the fourth preseason game is traditionally when starters play little, if at all. With the body of work he’s put together already and what he could potentially do Thursday night with more playing time makes him excited for what could be a promising future should he make it past final cuts.

“Of course, I’ve got high hopes,” Bartu said. “I’m just trying to go out there any put my best foot forward and hope for the best.”

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