FLOWERY BRANCH — Akeem Dent says he is ready to step in at middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons.
Dent, a third-round draft pick from Georgia last year, overcame concussion symptoms to take 28 snaps in Thursday's preseason win at Miami. It was his longest work in a game situation as Atlanta's starting middle linebacker.
"It was exciting to be out there on the field with my teammates," Dent said Sunday. "Nothing compares to it. You can practice, study in the classroom and watch film, but you've got to be live to really see how you're progressing and what you need to work on."
Dent had some growing pains. On the Dolphins' first snap from scrimmage, Dent didn't get proper leverage on a block, and Reggie Bush broke off an 18-yard run before free safety Thomas DeCoud made the tackle.
Later in the first quarter, Daniel Thomas ran 9 yards up the middle against Dent before strong safety William Moore made the stop.
For the most part, though, Falcons coach Mike Smith liked what he saw from Dent who finished with three solo tackles.
"He just needs to have the different looks and to experience them," Smith said. "We'll try to get him up to speed as quickly as possible."
In the hybrid scheme designed by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons (No. 13 in APPro32) will use 4-3 fronts, 3-4 fronts and sub-packages with five and six defensive backs.
Sean Weatherspoon has taken the role held over the past three years by Curtis Lofton as the three-down linebacker. The Falcons' other starting linebacker, Stephen Nicholas, will be on the field when Nolan uses nickel schemes with a fifth defensive back.
But Dent's responsibilities increased substantially after Lofton signed with New Orleans as a free agent and NFL veteran Lofa Tatupu was released on the eve of training camp with a torn pectoral muscle.
Though 14th-year linebacker Mike Peterson re-signed following Tatupu's injury, Dent quickly emerged as the starter in the middle, but he is also working for the second straight year on the first-team coverage and return units on kickoffs and punts.
He got a concussion in the first preseason game while trying to block a punt against Baltimore.
"I didn't see the hit coming and things like that, but it was something that I definitely had to sit out and take the time to get right before I could return," Dent said. "I'm fine right now. I'm ready to progress and move on."
DeCoud, a full-time starter over the past three years, wasn't concerned that Dent missed two chances to prevent big runs against Miami. He expects Dent to fill the void at middle linebacker.
"I don't think there will be any missed steps at all," DeCoud said. "You can see that he has the tangible assets we're looking for on defense — speed, smarts, technique, you name it — to be a success in this league."
Dent finished his rookie season with 20 tackles and one forced fumble, but he made those plays on special teams.Now he's getting a chance to do much more.
"All of us are excited to play in this defense," Dent said. "(Nolan) brought in a system that's basically built for us to run around and play fast. That's something I do well."
Notes: CB Asante Samuel was given the day off for personal reasons. Smith said he will return to practice on Monday. ... Starting NT Corey Peters (left foot) was placed on the reserve injured list and will be out through Week 7. ... QB John Parker Wilson lost the third-string job to undrafted rookie Dominique Davis and was waived. ... Reserve WR Kevin Cone returned to practice after missing the Miami exhibition with concussion symptoms.