Last season linebacker Akeem Dent got the opportunity to replace long-time starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. He didn’t exactly run away with that opportunity. Dent was the focus of many of my game reviews, noting several times how much he was struggling to impact against the run in 2012. That is going to have to change in 2013.
This upcoming season is going to be an important career marker for Dent. It’s likely going to be the year where shows enough that he could be counted on to become a significant contributor for the Falcons for years to come or one where he shows himself to be relegated to becoming a role player.
Dent does not have to come out and be an elite middle linebacker in 2013. But he does need to show significant improvement from a year ago. Dent struggled to make plays when the Falcons utilized their base package last year. He appeared in less than half (48.5%) of the team’s total defensive snaps last year (according to Pro Football Focus).
That led to the Falcons overuse of strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, whose Pro Football Focus coverage rating was the fifth-worst among all linebackers. Dent should be in a prime position to take reps from Nicholas. Dent is more athletic and has better hips than Nicholas. While Dent is no coverage maven, he should be an upgrade physically. The key will be the mental aspect of the position however.