Although he’s been listed as the starting middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons since the start of the season, Akeem Dent really hasn’t filled that role -- at least not in the traditional sense of a starter.
But that’s starting to change. In the last three games, the Falcons have gradually increased Dent’s playing time. Some of that may coincide with injuries in the secondary that have forced the Falcons to go with less nickel coverage than they would like. Some of it may have to do with the fact the last two quarterbacks the Falcons have played have been Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, two unconventional running backs that may be better defended by an extra linebacker.
Of some of it might simply have to do with the fact the second-year Dent is growing into the position that that he was supposed to compete for with veteran Lofa Tatupu in training camp.
But Tatupu got hurt and was released on the eve of camp. The Falcons went very slowly with Dent in the first two games. In the season opener at Kansas City, Dent participated in only 16 percent of the defensive snaps.
In Week 2 against Denver, Dent participated in only one play (one percent).
But things have started to change the last three games. In a game at San Diego, Dent participated in 36 percent of the plays. Against Carolina in Week 4, Dent was on the field for 47 percent of the defensive plays.
Against Washington on Sunday, Dent got his most extensive playing time yet as outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas sat out part of the game with an ankle injury. Dent was on the field for 55 percent of the defensive snaps.