For one day anyway, the Atlanta Falcons got back to using their middle linebacker as an every-down player.
Second-year pro Akeem Dent, who had been used as a part-time player earlier in the season, was one of only four defensive players to participate in every play in Sunday’s victory against Oakland. Dent, fellow linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore each were on the field for all 73 of Atlanta’s defensive plays.
Veteran outside linebacker Mike Peterson also participated in 36 plays. The Falcons had been using Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas as their main linebackers, but an ankle injury to Nicholas forced the Falcons to change how they used their linebackers.
Nicholas didn’t get any playing time at linebacker, but did take part in nine special-teams plays.
The Falcons had used middle linebacker Curtis Lofton as an every-down player in recent years. But, with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons no longer planned to use Lofton on passing downs and he decided to depart to New Orleans as a free agent.
I think the decision to use Dent on every down Sunday purely was out of necessity. The Falcons view Dent as more of a run-stopper and I don’t think the long-term plan is to make him an every-down player.
With a bye week, the Falcons should be able to get Nicholas healthy and I would expect them to go back to using Nicholas and Weatherspoon as their every-down linebackers when they return to action Oct. 28 at Philadelphia.