NFL Nation: Akeem Dent

Practice report: Gonzalez limited

November, 27, 2013
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who continues to battle a toe injury, was one of six Atlanta Falcons limited during Wednesday's practice.

Gonzalez was spotted catching a few passes without a helmet on at the end of practice. He was not on the field during the viewing portion, held indoors.

The veteran was questionable for the last two games but played regardless. He is expected to play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, barring any setbacks over the next two days.

Also limited at practice were defensive end Malliciah Goodman (calf), linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle), safety Zeke Motta (hand), cornerback Desmond Trufant (thigh) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (shoulder). Goodman missed the last two games due to his injury.

For Buffalo, three players showed up on the injury report but all three had full participation in practice: wide receiver Stevie Johnson (groin), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) and cornerback Nickell Robey (ankle).
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White continued to be an observer as the team returned to practice Thursday.

White has missed the last two games with hamstring and ankle injuries. He came to the practice field wearing a floppy hat as his teammates began drills.

Also sidelined during practice were linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon. Nicholas has a quad injury, and Weatherspoon is on short-term injured reserve while recovering from a foot injury. Weatherspoon is eligible to return in Week 11.

Running back Jason Snelling returned to practice off an ankle injury. His return could help a struggling running game ranked last in the league (62.4 rushing yards per game).

Linebacker Akeem Dent, who was limited Wednesday coming off an ankle injury, said he expected to have full participation Thursday.

Falcons' Dent (ankle) active vs. Bucs

October, 20, 2013
ATLANTA -- Linebacker Akeem Dent, who was questionable for Sunday coming off an ankle injury, is active for the Atlanta Falcons against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dent is expected to play middle linebacker in the base defense and will likely be pulled off in the sub package.

Also at linebacker, the Falcons are expected to start Paul Worrilow over Stephen Nicholas. Worrilow was a reserve in the last game coming off a knee injury.

Also inactive for the Falcons are wide receiver Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson, left tackle Sam Baker, tight end Chase Coffman, safety Kemal Ishmael, guard Harland Gunn and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

Rookie receiver Darius Johnson, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, is active for the Falcons.

Inactive for the Bucs are the following players: guard Carl Nicks, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, wide receiver Skye Dawson, running back Jeff Demps, cornerback Deveron Carr, guard Patrick Omameh and defensive end Steven Means.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson remained sidelined during Friday's practice, the last day of preparation for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

While Jackson seems more than likely to miss his fourth-straight game with a hamstring injury, White's status remains unclear. He apparently has missed all week of practice in the past yet still played in a game. Right now, White is nursing a hamstring injury as well as a high-ankle sprain.

White has played in 133 consecutive games, so his streak could be in jeopardy. Coach Mike Smith could address the injuries following Friday's practice.

Also sidelined during Friday's session were left tackle Sam Baker (knee) and tight end Chase Coffman (knee).

Linebacker Akeem Dent was in practice gear with a helmet for the second consecutive day coming off an ankle injury. Running back Jason Snelling has had full participation in practice this week coming off a concussion.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As running back Steven Jackson missed another day of practice due to a hamstring injury, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith was pressed on whether further tests determined the injury to be more serious.

"No we haven't," Smith said, referring to getting a different diagnosis. "I know as soon as he gets cleared by the doctors, we will get him back out here. It's a hamstring that's been tough to come back from at this point in time."

The Falcons get Jason Snelling back from a concussion this week to help shoulder the running back load along with Jacquizz Rodgers. Jackson is expected to miss his fourth straight game, with only one day of practice remaining this week.

Jackson previously expressed hope to return to action this week, but he also wrote on his personal blog that he wouldn't come back until he was 100 percent. He suffered the injury in a Week 2 win over his former team, the St. Louis Rams.

Smith said linebacker Akeem Dent did return to practice coming off an ankle injury but was limited. Dent's status for Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay remains unclear.

Also held out of practice were receiver Roddy White (hamstring/ankle), tackle Sam Baker (knee) and tight end Chase Coffmann (knee).

Falcons' Dent exits with ankle injury

September, 29, 2013
ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons starting linebacker Akeem Dent exited Sunday night's game againt the New England Patriots with an ankle injury.

Dent suffered the injury attempting to make a tackle as Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run. Dent had his right ankle taped but did not return.

Omar Gaither replaced Dent in the lineup. Paul Worrilow, Dent's replacement, suffered a knee injury in the game and was on the sideline.

Ranking the needs: Linebackers

April, 23, 2013
We continue our pre-draft rankings of position-group needs with the linebackers.

Remember, the earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

New Orleans Saints: There’s some hope that Martez Wilson and Junior Galette can make an impact as pass-rushers. But the Saints might have a chance to get an elite pass-rusher in this draft. They also could look for help in the middle because Jonathan Vilma is nearing the end of his career.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The starting spot on the strong side is wide open after the release of Quincy Black. Lavonte David had a great rookie season at the other outside spot and he and middle linebacker Mason Foster give the Bucs the nucleus of what could be a very good linebacker corps.

Atlanta Falcons: Sean Weatherspoon is the leader of this defense. Akeem Dent started in the middle last year and Stephen Nicholas is the other incumbent. The Falcons could look for linebackers to provide competition for Dent and Nicholas.

Carolina Panthers: They’re set with Luke Kuechly in the middle and Thomas Davis and Jon Beason on the outside. They also brought in Chase Blackburn as an inexpensive and versatile backup. But, given the injury history of Davis and Beason, the Panthers could look to add some depth at linebacker.
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith might be one of the straightest shooters in the NFL. That’s why he just might be the perfect coach for Brian Banks.

If you don’t know Banks’ story already, he’s the linebacker that had it all -- once upon a time -- and lost it. Banks was a top recruit coming out of high school and had committed to the University of Southern California. But Banks never got to play college football.

He was charged with rape and kidnapping, and spent more than five years in prison. Eventually, he was exonerated as his accuser recanted her claims.

The Falcons, who worked out Banks last summer and had stayed in touch, signed him to a contract Wednesday morning. But the deal didn’t come with any promises.

“I had a really amazing one-on-one conversation with (Smith) where he congratulated me and said that he was happy for me to be here, but this is just the beginning of a long road to taking that next step and making the 53-man roster,’’ Banks said in a conference call with the Atlanta media. “We both agreed that I don’t expect any handouts or favoritism. I’m here to work like everybody else. The result of my hard work will be whatever they deem necessary. All I can do is do my best.”

Banks’ best might be good enough. He’s 27, and the Falcons must have seen some physical talent in a player who spent last year with Las Vegas of the United Football League. Despite Banks’ age, there’s no need for the Falcons to rush him.

If Smith and his staff think Banks shows enough in training camp to play in the NFL, they can groom him slowly as a reserve behind middle linebacker Akeem Dent or on the practice squad. There also is the matter of the attention that comes with Banks because of his past.

In some markets, that might create a distraction. But I think Atlanta is a different situation. Banks is a one-day story, because the Falcons are a veteran team that came 10 yards from the Super Bowl last season. Taking the next step is the big offseason story for the Falcons, and that will keep the attention off Banks.

He’s also coming into a locker room that has strong veteran leadership, and he’ll be coached by a good defensive staff led by coordinator Mike Nolan.

Banks said all he can ask for is a chance.

“That’s why I work so hard now for the dreams I want to succeed in, because there’s one point in my life where I lost everything,’’ Banks said.

With the Falcons, Banks will at least get a fair chance to show if he can play in the NFL.
Ryan-ShermanUSA TODAY SportsIf Matt Ryan and the Falcons come out throwing, Seattle CB Richard Sherman stands ready.
Northwest meets Southeast when the Seattle Seahawks visit the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday.

Seattle is fresh off its first road playoff victory since 1983, having won 24-14 at Washington in the wild-card round. The Seahawks are now 2-1 in postseason play during Pete Carroll's first three seasons as head coach.

As for the Falcons, well, you know the story. They're the No. 1 seed in the NFC and they'll be playing at home. But as NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas can attest, they haven't accomplished anything yet.

That's where we pick up the conversation.

Yasinskas: The world knows the Falcons have yet to win a playoff game in the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era. That places enormous pressure on the Falcons, and the Seahawks look a little reminiscent of Atlanta's past two playoff opponents -- the Packers and Giants, who each went on to win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks won their last five regular-season games and seven of their past eight. Throw in their playoff victory against Washington on Sunday and you've got a team that's red hot. Atlanta has the better record and home-field advantage, but the playoff drought brings tremendous pressure. If the Falcons don't win this time around, the patience of owner Arthur Blank will become very thin.

Sando: The Falcons' past struggles in playoff games have invited skepticism from a lot of us. I've taken heat from some Falcons fans this season for allegedly underrating Atlanta in the power rankings. How good is this team right now and how much confidence should Falcons fans have in this team against Seattle?

Yasinskas: Yes, Atlanta fans have shared their opinions with me about where you ranked the Falcons on your ballot. But you might not have been that far off. The Falcons were a bit of an enigma much of the season. They were winning a lot of games, but weren't winning them impressively. They did come on late in the season, aside from a meaningless loss to Tampa Bay in the season finale. This is a team with a tremendous amount of individual talent, and the Falcons are very good at home. But they can't afford to revert back to their early-season ways of playing just well enough to win, because that might get them beat.

Sando: The Seahawks are playing without the burden of expectations. They are very good at quarterback, running back and in the secondary. The read option has added an unconventional element to their offense. Still, winning a 10 a.m. PT game on the road against a very good offensive team will be tough. The Seahawks have started slowly in their past two games. I think they'll have a harder time if that happens again. Along those lines, have the Falcons been able to jump on teams early at home and finish them off? One memory I have is watching Arizona pick off Ryan five times.

Yasinskas: The Arizona game was the only time in Ryan's life (including college, high school and youth league) that he's thrown five interceptions in a game. That was a fluke. Some of those balls were tipped. Ryan generally is very efficient. And starting fast is one of the trademarks of Ryan and the Falcons. Since Ryan entered the league in 2008, the Falcons have scored more points on their first offensive drives than any team in the NFL. They pride themselves on starting fast, and they're particularly good at that in the Georgia Dome.

Sando: The Seahawks fell behind St. Louis and Washington early. They have shown an ability to come back. They were down by 13 to New England and won. They trailed Washington by 14 points and won. They're not slow starters by rule. Seattle was tied with Atlanta for seventh in first-quarter touchdown drives (11) during the regular season. It has been in only the past couple weeks that teams have thrown off the Seahawks early with their blitzes. Seattle came out passing against the Redskins. We'll see heavier early doses of Marshawn Lynch on Sunday.

Yasinskas: I'm certain we will see heavier doses of Lynch. Stopping the run is not Atlanta's strength. The Falcons ranked 21st against the run in the regular season and they've been known to have problems with power runners. That's why it's crucial for the Falcons to get an early lead and force the Seahawks to pass. The other thing I think you'll see is a lot of middle linebacker Akeem Dent. The Falcons used a lot of the nickel package in the regular season, and that kept Dent on the sidelines. But against the Seahawks, I think it's more important for the Falcons to focus on stopping the run, and they'll want Dent on the field for that.

Sando: Interesting. Seattle could counter by shifting into its three-receiver offense and then going with its read-option package. Lynch scored the winning 27-yard touchdown against the Redskins on an option run from three-receiver personnel against Washington's nickel defense. The option has become a reliable tactic for Seattle. Opponents have a tough time determining whether Lynch or Russell Wilson is going to run with the ball. They also must respect the play-action passing game. The Seahawks had 11 rushes for 110 yards on option runs Sunday. They had 224 yards rushing overall. I noticed Cam Newton had 202 yards rushing in two games against the Falcons this season. What was the nature of those rushes and do you see anything Seattle can cull from that?

Yasinskas: Newton did have success against Atlanta, but the Falcons still were able to split with the Panthers. They also held Robert Griffin III to one carry for 7 yards in an early victory at Washington. They won against another mobile quarterback in Michael Vick. So the Falcons have some experience in facing mobile quarterbacks and the read option. I'm sure they used the bye week to prepare to see it again because they knew there was a good chance they'd be facing Wilson or Griffin. Outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is the key player against the read option. He's the leader of the defense and probably the best player on the unit.

Sando: The Panthers had 21 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown using the option against Atlanta in Week 4. There will be other keys to this game. Wilson's ability to deal with the Falcons' blitzes could be one of them. Wilson had seven touchdowns, no picks, three sacks and the NFL's third-best Total QBR score (87.2) against five-plus pass-rushers from Week 8 through Week 16. That included going 6-of-6 for 91 yards and a score with a perfect 100.0 QBR against the 49ers' blitzes during a 42-13 victory in Week 16. Wilson wasn't quite as good in this regard against the Rams in Week 17, taking three sacks against their pressure. The Redskins held Wilson to a season-low 9.7 QBR against the blitz. Wilson has taken eight sacks against the blitz over the past two games after taking eight total over the previous 15 games.

Yasinskas: Wilson is incredibly poised. But he still is a rookie coming into a tough venue in a playoff game, so I'm pretty sure defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will try every way possible to pressure him. Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford were the only quarterbacks all season to have much success against Atlanta's blitzes. Nolan likes to mix things up. The Atlanta pass rush starts with defensive end John Abraham, but Nolan has found ways to complement him. Nolan's not afraid to drop defensive end Kroy Biermann into pass coverage and let a linebacker or a defensive back blitz. The Falcons often talk about "disguising" their pass rush, and I'm sure they'll try to do lots of that against a rookie quarterback.

Sando: Wilson has generally improved as the season has progressed, but he has been hit-and-miss all season against DB pressure. Wilson has three touchdowns, two picks, four sacks and a 17.9 QBR score when opponents rush a member of the secondary. He did make Minnesota, Miami and San Francisco (twice) pay for the tactic, however.

There's so much to consider in this matchup, Pat, that we haven't even gotten to one of the most crucial ones. Seattle's 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner and 6-3 Richard Sherman can be dominant cornerbacks. They disrupt receivers' timing and generally get under their skin. You might recall Carolina's Steve Smith just about losing it against Sherman earlier this season. Even the Redskins' left tackle went after him Sunday. If the Falcons win this game, Ryan is going to be the reason, I think. Should the Falcons' receivers like their chances? Or could we see Ryan becoming a bit tentative against big, physical, ball-hawking corners?

Yasinskas: I think the Falcons have to come out and be very aggressive with their passing game. It's the strength of their offense. This is a different team than in the past. Michael Turner is at the end of his career and this is not a running team any longer. Roddy White and Julio Jones are big, physical receivers, so I say let's see strength on strength with Seattle's corners. I think White and Jones can get open against anyone, so the Falcons need to take their chances. Plus, this passing game is about more than just Jones and White. They command so much attention that tight end Tony Gonzalez and slot receiver Harry Douglas could be forgotten about. I think Douglas and/or Gonzalez could end up being key players in this game.

Sando: Seattle has been very good against tight ends for the most part. I'd be surprised if Gonzalez factored in a big way. Seattle has allowed three touchdown passes to tight ends this season, tied for second fewest in the NFL. The Seahawks have allowed 10 scoring passes to wide receivers, the fifth fewest in the league. Sherman had eight picks and three forced fumbles this season, joining Ed Reed, Charles Woodson and Walt Harris as the only players to reach those totals in a season over the past decade. The Seahawks are not as strong at nickel corner, however. And with leading sacker Chris Clemons likely out with a knee injury, life could get tougher for Seattle in the secondary.

Yasinskas: Mike, like just about everyone in the media, I'm skeptical of the Falcons because of their recent playoff losses. But I think this is the year they finally get a victory in the postseason. This is a different team than past years. I think the Falcons will put the game in Ryan's hands and I think they'll win 28-20.

Sando: I think the Falcons are finally ready to break through and win in the postseason. I'm just not sure they've drawn the right opponent to make that happen. Seattle is the more physical team. The Seahawks have beaten seven teams that finished the regular season with a winning record (the number is two for Atlanta). While Seattle was posting the NFL's best strength-of-victory percentage, the Falcons were fattening up on the NFL's easiest schedule. Atlanta is at once the No. 1 seed and the team stepping up in class. Ryan's going to need a great game to prove wrong my 27-20 prediction for another Seahawks victory.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 6, 2013
Five things to know about next Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome:

1. Red-hot Seahawks. For the third straight year, the Falcons could be facing an opponent that’s peaking at the right time. Last year, Atlanta lost to the New York Giants in the wild-card round. The year before that, the Falcons lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Both the Giants and the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. Even before Sunday’s 24-14 victory against the Washington Redskins in the wild-card round, the Seahawks had won their last five regular-season games and seven of their last eight.

2. Strength on strength. Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez, an offense that ranked in the top 10 all season is Atlanta’s biggest strength. But the Falcons are going to be facing a defense that allowed a league-low 245 points (15.3) points a game. The Seahawks haven’t given up more than 17 points in a game since Week 12 and only allowed more than 20 points once in the second half of the regular season.

3. Triple trouble. Atlanta’s defense could have its hands full with this matchup. We’ve heard a lot about the brilliant rookie season by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He can pass, although he doesn’t have big-time playmakers at wide receiver. Wilson also can run out of the read option and the Falcons have some experience with that after facing Carolina’s Cam Newton (twice) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III during the regular season. But Seattle also often uses a traditional running game with Marshawn Lynch and that could be the biggest concern of all. The Falcons had trouble with power running games much of the season and ranked No. 21 against the run. The Falcons used their nickel package a lot in the regular season, but I think you might see them switch to a heavy dose of their 4-3 base defense with middle linebacker Akeem Dent getting a lot of playing time to try to counter Lynch.

4. Home in the dome. The whole world knows the Falcons are 0-3 in the postseason in the Ryan-Mike Smith era. But two of those losses came on the road. Since Ryan arrived in 2008, he’s 33-5 at home in the regular season. Prior to a meaningless loss to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale, the Falcons had won 11 straight home games. Despite their impressive win at Washington on Sunday, the Seahawks weren’t a great road team this season. They were 3-5 on the road during the regular season.

5. Getting healthy. While the Seahawks will come out of the wild-card round with some bumps and bruises, the Falcons look to be about as healthy as possible. The bye week gave defensive end John Abraham time to rest an ankle injury and cornerback Dunta Robinson time to get over a concussion. Strong safety William Moore, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Saturday and should be at full strength for Sunday.

Saints, Falcons without injured starters

November, 11, 2012
NEW ORLEANS -- No surprises on the lists of inactive players for the Saints and Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

As expected, injured Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will miss his second straight game. Mike Peterson is expected to start in his place with Akeem Dent also picking up some of Weatherspoon’s snaps.

The other inactives for Atlanta are quarterback Dominique Davis, receiver Kevin Cone, safety Charles Mitchell, offensive lineman Phillipkeith Manley, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

The Saints also will be without several injured players. Running back Darren Sproles, receiver/return man Courtney Roby, linebacker Scott Shanle, offensive tackle Zach Strief and defensive end Junior Galette are inactive. The other inactives for the Saints are defensive back Elbert Mack and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker.

Observation deck: Falcons-Jaguars

August, 30, 2012

Some quick observations on the Falcons' 24-14 preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
  • Coach Mike Smith opened the game with most of his starting defense on the field. He told the defense it would play one series. Well, that series ended up being exactly one play. Defensive tackle Vance Walker scooped up a Blaine Gabbert fumble that set up an Atlanta touchdown on its first offensive play. Smith stayed true to his word. The starting defense, for the most part, was done after that one play. Middle linebacker Akeem Dent and defensive tackle Peria Jerry were the notable exceptions. They got some extended playing time because Dent missed some time earlier in the preseason and needs the experience. Jerry, who appears to be destined to start with Corey Peters injured, continues to show signs he could get back to where he was before he suffered a major knee injury in his rookie season.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis got the start and played the entire way. Davis did some good things, particularly making a few wise choices to dump off to secondary receivers (and sometimes just throwing the ball away) when primary targets weren’t able to get open downfield. But Davis did throw an interception as the Falcons were running the two-minute offense late in the game. I think Davis has shown enough to earn a roster spot, but I think he will open the season as the third quarterback behind starter Matt Ryan and Luke McCown. I think the Falcons will be thrilled if Davis can develop into the backup relatively quickly. But I think the smart move is to at least open the season with the veteran McCown as the backup. He has experience in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense from their days together with the Jaguars. But I’m impressed by just about everything about Davis. In particular his pocket presence and awareness is a whole lot better than you would expect from an undrafted rookie.
  • Dominique Franks did some good things at cornerback. That along with the fact that he’s wrapped up the punt-returner job, probably means Franks has locked up the fourth cornerback spot. Franks intercepted a Chad Henne pass near the end of the first half.
  • Speaking of guys on the roster bubble, I think Kevin Cone might have helped his case for the final receiver spot. Cone had a nice touchdown reception, where he swatted away several potential tacklers, in the third quarter.

Observation deck: Ravens-Falcons

August, 9, 2012
You could see the influence of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan right from the start of Atlanta’s 31-17 preseason loss against Baltimore.

The offense came out looking explosive, which was the buzzword at the start of last season, but ended up backfiring on the Falcons. Instead, there were jokes about how they weren’t explosive at all. Maybe the jokes will end now. Matt Ryan completed his first five passes for 71 yards, including four to Julio Jones for 57 yards and a touchdown. Jones left the game after the first quarter with six catches for 109 yards.

The climate change on defense also was noticeable. The Ravens went three-and-out on their first drive and the Atlanta defense looked more aggressive than it has in recent years. Almost all of Baltimore’s offensive production came long after the starters left the game.

Lots of fans said the Falcons should have done more in acquiring personnel during the offseason. Maybe they did all they needed by adding the two new coordinators.

Some other observations on the Falcons:
  • Don’t be fooled by the final score. The Atlanta offense and defense clearly dominated while the starters were in the game.
  • Akeem Dent, who pretty much had been anointed as the starting middle linebacker, suffered an apparent head injury in the second quarter. Dent appeared to hit helmets with the ball carrier. He left the game and was replaced by veteran Mike Peterson. We still don’t know the extent of Dent’s injury, but it’s a concern. Peterson is a nice veteran backup, but I don’t think the Falcons want him starting if Dent is out for a long time. If Dent is going to miss significant playing time, the Falcons could be on the market for a new middle linebacker.
  • Speaking of injuries, rookie fullback Bradie Ewing, who is competing for the starting job, went down with an a knee injury in the first half. It’s unclear how serious Ewing’s injury is. Mike Cox is his competition at fullback.
  • The Falcons have talked a lot about how they believe second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers can run between the tackles. As if to prove a point, they had Rodgers running up the middle often, including a short touchdown run.
  • If you still don’t think Ryan has a strong arm, go back and look at the pass he threw to Jones with 1:49 left in the first quarter. Ryan hit the receiver in stride on a deep out pattern.
  • Cornerback Dominique Franks could be on the bubble if he was viewed only as a cornerback. But Franks is getting the first crack at the job as the punt returner and he’s making the most of his opportunity. Franks had a 45-yard punt return in the first quarter and that could go a long way in keeping him on the roster.
  • Linebacker Robert James has been with the Falcons in the past, but never has been a factor. He showed some pass-rush skills against Baltimore and that could make him valuable in Nolan’s defense. At 224 pounds, James is undersized, but he has some quickness, which could be very useful as a situational player in the pass rush.

Falcons' Akeem Dent banged up

August, 9, 2012
The Atlanta Falcons have been planning to go with second-year pro Akeem Dent as their starting middle linebacker.

At least in the short term, they might want to come up with a Plan B.

Dent was injured in Thursday night’s preseason game with Baltimore. Dent suffered an apparent head injury while making a tackle with 9:38 left in the second quarter as he appeared to have a helmet-to-helmet collision with the ball carrier. There was no immediate word as to the extent of the injury, but members of the Atlanta television crew said they were told Dent was knocked unconscious. He didn’t stay down long. He sat up and began moving around before being taken off the field.

The Falcons lost Curtis Lofton, the starting middle linebacker the past four seasons in free agency. They brought in veteran Lofa Tatupu to compete with Dent, but Tatupu was released after suffering a pectoral injury just before the start of training camp. The Falcons quickly went out and re-signed Mike Peterson, who can play all three linebacker positions.

Peterson is a fine substitute if Dent’s injury turns out to be minor. But if Dent’s injury is going to linger into the regular season, the Falcons might have to explore other options at middle linebacker.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- On the surface, it may look like the Atlanta Falcons have a huge problem at middle linebacker.

They lost Curtis Lofton, the starter the past four years, to New Orleans in free agency. Then, veteran Lofa Tatupu, the guy who was supposed to replace Lofton, at least on a short-term basis, suffered a pectoral injury just before the start of training camp and was released.

That’s why Akeem Dent, who has made zero NFL starts and has 13 career tackles, has been working as the first-team middle linebacker since the start of camp. There’s no doubt the Falcons wish Tatupu hadn’t been injured, but they're not looking at his loss as the end of the world. That’s because they started planning for a scenario like this more than a year ago.

“Curtis was a fine football player and we knew there was a legitimate chance he would not be with us this year when we drafted Akeem last year,’’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We knew that Akeem was a potential Mike linebacker for us. ... Akeem is a very competitive, strong individual with a strong passion for the game. Unfortunately for us, we lost Lofa. Lofa was brought in here for a number of reasons. One as a leader and two to compete with Akeem Dent for the starting Mike backer position. It was going to be a very strong competition. Unfortunately, Lofa’s moved on from our organization. It’s up to Akeem to continue to work and grow into that position.’’

Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith aren’t ready to firmly say that Dent is the starter and long-term answer at middle linebacker. But I get the sense that they’re not out there actively looking to bring in another veteran.

“Thomas and his staff are not like a coach who looks from Sunday to Sunday,’’ Smith said. “They’re looking a year or a couple years down the road. We drafted Akeem Dent last year in the third round with the intent that at some point in time he would be our starting Mike linebacker. He played behind Curtis Lofton in Year 1 and played on special teams. Now, he’s going to get his opportunity to do it. I think Akeem is going to be a learning mode.

"But I think he has the pieces around him to help him. We have Mike Peterson back on our roster and he’s played all three linebacker positions. He’s going to be a great resource for Akeem. I think [outside linebacker] Sean Weatherspoon is going to have a big impact on Akeem as well because he’s only one year removed from what Akeem is going through right now. I think Akeem will use those resources along with his coaches and we’ll get him ready. He just needs to experience the game. We feel like he has the skill set to play Mike linebacker for us.’’