Dent eager to fill void at middle linebacker

Associated Press Modified: August 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm •  Published: August 26, 2012

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Akeem Dent says he is ready to step in at middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons.

Dent, a third-round draft pick from Georgia last year, overcame concussion symptoms to take 28 snaps in Thursday's preseason win at Miami. It was his longest work in a game situation as Atlanta's starting middle linebacker.

"It was exciting to be out there on the field with my teammates," Dent said Sunday. "Nothing compares to it. You can practice, study in the classroom and watch film, but you've got to be live to really see how you're progressing and what you need to work on."

Dent had some growing pains. On the Dolphins' first snap from scrimmage, Dent didn't get proper leverage on a block, and Reggie Bush broke off an 18-yard run before free safety Thomas DeCoud made the tackle.

Later in the first quarter, Daniel Thomas ran 9 yards up the middle against Dent before strong safety William Moore made the stop.

For the most part, though, Falcons coach Mike Smith liked what he saw from Dent who finished with three solo tackles.

"He just needs to have the different looks and to experience them," Smith said. "We'll try to get him up to speed as quickly as possible."

In the hybrid scheme designed by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons (No. 13 in APPro32) will use 4-3 fronts, 3-4 fronts and sub-packages with five and six defensive backs.

Sean Weatherspoon has taken the role held over the past three years by Curtis Lofton as the three-down linebacker. The Falcons' other starting linebacker, Stephen Nicholas, will be on the field when Nolan uses nickel schemes with a fifth defensive back.

But Dent's responsibilities increased substantially after Lofton signed with New Orleans as a free agent and NFL veteran Lofa Tatupu was released on the eve of training camp with a torn pectoral muscle.

Though 14th-year linebacker Mike Peterson re-signed following Tatupu's injury, Dent quickly emerged as the starter in the middle, but he is also working for the second straight year on the first-team coverage and return units on kickoffs and punts.

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