FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons middle linebacker Akeem Dent is set to make his first NFL start against the Kansas City Chiefs at 1 p.m. Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.
The second-year player from the Georgia and Douglass High will attempt to fill the spot vacated by Curtis Lofton, who left to sign with the Saints in free agency. Lofton led the Falcons in tackles with 159 last season.
While Dent had a strong exhibition season, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan doesn’t know want to expect once the regular season starts.
“The game changes when it goes to the regular season,” Nolan said. “In my opinion, he’s has done a very good job in the preseason. I’ve been impressed with him. Especially knowing that he didn’t really play at all in the regular [defense last season].”
Dent, who led the team in special teams tackles last season with 19, will play in the base 4-3 defense. He’ll come out when Nolan calls for the nickel package.
“All indications to me are that he’s going to be a good, solid player,” Nolan said.
Dent is trying to take a low key approach to his new starting spot.
“I’m just going out and making sure that I’m being sound fundamentally, just play assignment football and try to make some plays,” Dent said.
Dent is trying not to focus on the fact that he’ll be making his first start in the league.
“I don’t really think about it like that,” Dent said. “It’s just another football game and I’m just trying to take it one step at a time. I just want to go out and play to the best of my ability. “
Nolan is anticipating that Dent will hit some rough patches as a first-time starter.
“They’ve got to start somewhere,” Nolan said. ”But I have been pleased with what he’s done so far. He is currently a two-down player. I think in time he could do a decent job as a three-down player. But right now we’ll start with just trying two. …hopefully in the base he does a good job.”
Nolan wants Dent to continue to play through his setbacks and try to improve as the season progresses.
“As it is with all young guys, he’s going to start at one level and if they are good, he’ll continue to climb and finish the season looking back on it and saying ‘God, I’ve really gotten better,’” Nolan said. “I hope he does that.”
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