Vivlamore filling in for D. Orlando Ledbetter (aka the Great DLed)
FLOWERY BRANCH – The real battle begins in training camp but Akeem Dent is laying the groundwork for the fight now.
Dent, in his second year out of Douglass High and Georgia, will compete with Lofa Tatupu for the Falcons’ starting middle linebacker position. He does so with the benefit of a full offseason routine, unlike last year season when the NFL lockout severely limited his preparation. When the Falcons did not re-sign Curtis Lofton, their leading tackler the past three seasons, Dent knew he had an opportunity.
“There were some rough times,” Dent said of his rookie season. “Going into these [organized team activities] is better for me because last year I didn’t have an opportunity to go through this phase. It’s going to be a real good competition between me and Lofa.”
Dent will have to learn a new defense as the Falcons brought in Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator this season. Dating back to his days at Georgia, Dent has played for four different defensive coordinators in the past four seasons.
“You always felt like he was behind because he didn’t have that foundation of the May and the June,” linebacker coach Glenn Pires said. “He came along as the season was going and he was catching up. I thought he was getting more comfortable. It’s starting to show now.”
Dent and Tatupu have been spending the offseason watching film and working through the Falcons defense together. Dent said he will continue to pick the brain of Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler.
According to coach Mike Smith, the real competition will begin in August when rules allow for pads and hitting. For now, there is more learning to do.
A healthy Edwards ready
Ray Edwards has undergone two knee surgeries since signing with the Falcons as a free agent last season. The latest came following a 3.5 sack season last year.
The defensive end, whom the Falcons gave a five-year, $30 million contract, says he is finally healthy.
“Last year was last year,” Edwards said. “Coming off knee surgery and jumping right into a full season was very tough on my body, period. I started having trouble with my other leg. No excuses but I went out there and put my best foot forward and continued to play. This year, I’m fully healthy.”
Edwards is also encouraged by the new defensive scheme under Nolan. He said it gives him a chance rush the passer without having pass-coverage responsibilities.
“It’s a lot better because it’s more us up front attacking, attacking, attacking,” Edwards said. “That’s the more plus thing about this defense and letting our back end play the way they play. … Let me go. I came from a defense in Minnesota where no matter what we just rushed the front four and let the back end do their job.”
Four players continue not to participate in OTA sessions due to injury. Defensive end Cliff Matthews (undisclosed), defensive tackle Corey Peters (foot), offensive lineman Lamar Holmes (toe) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe) were out. Tight end Michael Palmer, Tatupu and Matthews worked out with trainers on the side. Holmes is no longer wearing a walking boot on his left foot.
A number of players were not in attendance during Wednesday’s session. They were John Abraham, Asante Samuel, Christopher Owens, Dunta Robinson, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Peria Jerry, Micanor Regis and Pat Schiller.
* Long-snapper Corey Adams was waived Wednesday. The undrafted free agent was the long snapper at Kansas State before signing with the Falcons.
* Thursday will be the final day of OTAs for the Falcons. They will begin a three-day mandatory mini-camp from June 19-21. It will be the first chance for Abraham and Gonzalez to be on the field this offseason. “It’s always a pleasure to see those guys in the building,” Smith said.
* Guard Justin Blalock has partnered with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and will be a spokesman for the organization’s When I Play Music campaign. As part of his duties, Blalock is scheduled to host and guest conduct a concert Thursday.
* Center Todd McClure was an on-field guest of the Braves Wednesday night. He watched batting practice with general manager Frank Wren and spoke to Brian McCann and Eric Hinske.