From his Tip Sheet this week:http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pasquarell ... --nfl.html
Whether the decrease in conditioning work mandated by last summer's new collective bargaining agreement actually precipitated more offseason incidents this spring, with catastrophic soft-tissue injuries seemingly on the rise, is a certainly a matter of conjecture.
But what cannot be debated is that offseason injuries to players such as Terrell Suggs, Jason Peters, Phil Taylor, Da'Quan Bowers, Lofa Tatupu and others -- with most expected to be sidelined for the majority or all of the 2012 season -- will put plenty of heat on their replacements.
Guys like Atlanta second-year veteran Akeem Dent, who recorded all of one tackle from scrimmage as a rookie in 2011, was to have benefitted from having Tatupu as a mentor. Now Dent, who seems to have the perfect last name if not the experience for the starting job, will be expected to step into the void created by the free agency defection of Curtis Lofton (to New Orleans), who started in all but one of his 64 games for the Falcons since 2008.
"(Lofton) was a great player for us," Dent said, as the Falcons began training camp practices on Thursday. "I can't try to be him. Or I'm not Lofa, either, who had all that experience, and has been to Pro Bowls. Even though we were fighting for the same position, he was helping me sort stuff out, you know? All I can do is to go full-speed all the time ... and try to be consistent with everything I do. I am who I am."
Exactly who Dent is: A onetime strong-side 'backer at the University of Georgia, the former third-round choice, who was moved inside by the Bulldogs' staff late in his career in Athens, has started just 13 games at middle linebacker. In his debut NFL season, Dent played primarily on special teams, and his 19 coverage tackles ranked among the most in franchise history. But Lofton, despite liabilities in coverage that Atlanta coaches opted to ignore, played virtually every down from scrimmage. A season-ending pectoral injury to Tatupu, suffered last week in a weightlifting incident, prompted the release of the veteran and left Dent without the mentor with whom he had worked for much of the offseason.
The Falcons signed 13-year veteran Mike Peterson as insurance -- he played the middle under coach Mike Smith in Jacksonville, knows Dent well from last season, but would not have been rescued from the scrap heap if not for Tatupu's injury -- but they are without the guy they hand-picked, after he didn't play at all in 2011, to provide insurance. Suddenly, the safety net has sprung a few holes and Dent is expected to repair them with little apprenticeship served.
Unlike Lofton, who generally played all three downs, Dent almost certainly will be a two-down defender in the scheme being implemented by new coordinator Mike Nolan. But even if he's projected as a two-down run-stuffer, the youngster still has considerable responsibility for a team that has been to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and the learning curve has been accelerated.
"People don't want excuses," said Dent, who could have a difficult time replicating the ability of Lofton to align all his colleagues in the right place, a knowledge that the departed Tatupu might have provided. "We're expected to win. We expect to win. And I've got to play well and fill in the hole."
--It's only a few days into camp, but the old adage "three's a crowd" has hardly been a factor for several teams who boosted their "nickel" coverage packages in the offseason, essentially with three starting-caliber cornerbacks.
And that clearly has been the case with the Falcons.
The addition of Asante Samuel to the tandem of Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes wasn't purposely intended to provide Atlanta with the potential to better match up with all the multiple-wide receiver looks presented by NFC West archrival New Orleans, but things certainly are shaping up that way.
Said one Falcons' defender on Thursday: "We're better prepared now to go tit-for-tat with them, and that makes a difference."
Despite a Philadelphia Inquirer note last week that suggested coach Andy Reid viewed Samuel as a player who was in decline, the Falcons' staff hasn't perceived any disturbing drop-off in the play of the four-time Pro Bowl defender in minicamps, OTAs or the opening days of camp. The nine-year veteran has always been a guy who gambled some that he could jump routes and make the big, game-altering play, and who sometimes got beat deep on double-move routes as a result.
But he brings a swagger that was perhaps lacking in the Atlanta secondary, and he'll allow Robinson, an overpaid disappointment in his first two seasons with the club (even if Falcons' officials wouldn't admit it), to move to the slot in most situations.
"It's a comfortable situation (playing inside)," Robinson said. "We play 'nickel' more than 50 percent anyway, so we're all starters. There's no ego involved."