In 31 days the Atlanta Falcons will be kicking off the regular season for the first time in four years with a new face starting at middle linebacker. After the season Atlanta elected to not re-sign Curtis Lofton because, in my opinion, they had something just as good if not better waiting in the weeds. That something being second year player Akeem Dent out of the University of Georgia.
Dent played in all 16 games a rookie and led the special teams unit in tackles, 19, and registers just one with the defense. I guess you’re wondering, "Wait... WHAT?!, Atlanta let the team leading tackler go to be replaced by some third round special team guy?' Well, yes, that's pretty much it, but I must warn you Dent will be a star in the league one day, just watch.
If you look at the comparably of Lofton and Dent, for instance the height and weight, you can’t help but notice the similarities. Dent stands 6' 1" 239 and Lofton is an inch shorter and two pounds heavier. According to nfldraftscouts.com both players ran about a 4.8 in the forty yard dash, however Dent out preformed Lofton in a slew of other drills such as: the bench press, broad and vertical jumps, the 20 yard shuttle and the 3 cone drill at their respective combines and pro days. (here is a link that explains what each drill is meant to test)
That means one thing, Dent is more athletic than Lofton and it doesn't take genius to realize that athletic linebackers are good in pass coverage which is one of the biggest knocks on Lofton while he was in a Falcons uniform. New defensive coordinator is believed to have viewed Curtis as a two down run stuffing middle linebacker which is largely why he was not re-signed, either that or he wanted more money that Atlanta was willing to pay.
It goes without question that Dent is a willing tackler. While in college he finished up his career at UGA with a strong senior showing. He amassed 126 total tackles which was ranked second in the SEC, not bad right? The only thing that could be a problem for Dent is his lack of experience. The Falcons tried to combat that lack experience with the signing of veteran Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Unfortunately for Dent and the depth at middle linebacker, Lofa was lost for the season after suffering a torn pectoral during workouts and was released by the team four months into his tenure with Atlanta.
So how big is the void left by Lofton? Well, while experience is an invaluable tool in the NFL, I think that Dent will be able to overcome the odds and put his own stamp on the defense. Under the wings of 14 year veteran Mike Peterson, who was signed after the release of Tatupu, and Mike Nolan, Dent should have a tremendous year. Let’s face it, If Lofton could be a star in a Brian VanGorder defense, I don’t see why a more versatile linebacker can't succeed in a simpler, more aggressive defensive scheme. Especially with players like Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas more than willing to pick the slack.
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