If there was one spot the Atlanta Falcons couldn't afford to lose depth at it was linebacker, but in the wake of Lofa Tatupu's pectoral injury it appears that 2011 3rd round pick Akeem Dent will be relied on earlier than expected. Yes, talking about Tatupu's injury as if it's a foregone conclusion may be putting the cart before the horse, but he is visiting the famous Dr. James Andrews who typically seems to foreshadow a player's trip to IR, or at least a long stint on the bench.
If there's a silver lining it's that this news broke early, and with enough time that the Falcons can find a replacement linebacker if needed. For now Dent represents the next best option for Atlanta at MLB. Appearing in all sixteen games last season he didn't really have a chance for a great deal of playing time with Curtis Lofton firmly entrenced as the starter. Dent totaled 20 tackles on the year, and forced a fumble in a week seven matchup with Detroit.
There's no way of knowing if Dent is ready, and that's a scary prospect. Tatupu was never intended to be a long-term option at the position, but rather as a bridge to take some snaps and tutor Dent. This represents an early challenge for not just the 2nd year linebacker, but for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. He will need to navigate the position very carefully, as the middle linebacker spot to a 4-3 defense is key leadership and organizational role. There are other veterans who will be able to help Dent along, but there are questions surrounding the in-game headset the MLB wears, as well as his ability to communicate with the rest of the team.
We can hope Tatupu's injury isn't severe, but already Mike Smith is telling the media that Tatupu will miss the first part of training camp. This means that Akeem Dent better be ready for the big leagues, because he's going to be leaned on far sooner than even he expected.
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