Former Georgia star Akeem Dent might start at middle linebacker

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Atlanta defensive back Thomas DeCoud jokes as he reports for training camp. The Falcons have already released middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu because of an injury.  JOHN BAZEMORE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
JOHN BAZEMORE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Atlanta defensive back Thomas DeCoud jokes as he reports for training camp. The Falcons have already released middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu because of an injury.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons are making new plans at middle linebacker after losing Lofa Tatupu for the season because of a chest muscle injury.

The Falcons reported Wednesday for today’s first day of training camp with second-year player Akeem Dent suddenly cast as the favorite to replace Curtis Lofton in the middle of the defense.

Dent, a third-round pick in 2011 from Georgia. spent most of his rookie season on special teams.

Tatupu, who signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with Atlanta in March, was released Wednesday. Only $600,000 of the deal was guaranteed.

Coach Mike Smith said Tuesday that Tatupu will have season-ending surgery after suffering the pectoral injury in a workout. Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler with Seattle, did not play last season and was expected to compete with Dent for the starting job.

“It’s hard replacing Tatupu,” defensive tackle Peria Jerry said Wednesday.

“We wish him the best of luck in getting back to us.”

Another veteran linebacker, 36-year-old Mike Peterson, re-signed with the Falcons on Monday.

Lofton, who led the team in tackles the past three years, signed with New Orleans.

With Lofton established at middle linebacker, there was little playing time on defense
last season for Dent. Now he will have a chance
to open the 2012 season as the starter.

“Akeem is definitely coming along,” outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas said. “He’s catching on to everything fast. He’s an ascending player.”

Tatupu had arthroscopic surgeries on both knees after the 2010 season but said he was physically ready to play last year.

“We were looking forward to Tatupu, but Mike Peterson is a veteran guy and a guy we all look up to in the locker room,” Jerry said. “He’s a motivator. He gets everybody going.”

The Falcons will open camp with Dent, Peterson and three undrafted players – Tennessee State’s Rico Council, Pittsburgh’s Max Gruder and Pat Schiller of Northern Illinois – at middle linebacker.


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