(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s sports intern Tanya Sichynsky, who’s set to graduate from the University of Georgia in December, has been out at minicamp assisting in the coverage this week. She was slated to do story on linebacker Akeem Dent. Little did Ms. Sichynsky know that she’d be doing the last local interview with Dent as an Atlanta Falcon. The former Douglass High and Georgia standout was traded just hours after the interview. Here’s her story.)
By Tanya Sichynsky
FLOWERY BRANCH — After Wednesday’s minicamp practice, I had a few minutes with now former Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent. We spoke just after 5:30 p.m., and unbeknownst to him, he would be traded later that evening.
The news that the Falcons traded Dent for Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates broke just as I was getting to bed, and as it did I couldn’t help but think about the earlier conversation.
Last week at the Falcons OTA linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles tendon, leaving a hole in the Falcons’ linebacking corps in leadership as well as skill. For Dent, who saw his productivity decline from 2012 (42 tackles) to 2013 (26 tackles), an unfortunate circumstance for the team could become an opportunity to salvage his career.
“With Spoon going down, him being one of our more vocal leaders and things like that, we just have to come in — myself, Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and a couple other guys are going to have to come in — and step up and fill that void, along with [veteran safety] Will Moore,” Dent said after practice Wednesday. “But within the linebacker group we just have to come out every day focused, just take on more responsibility as leaders and just take the control of the defense.”
At the time of Weatherspoon’s injury and during minicamp, Dent played with the defense’s second unit primarily alongside rookie Prince Shembo, a fourth-round outside linebacker from Notre Dame.
Once the leading tackler in the NFC Championship Game of the 2012 season, Dent found himself not only competing for reps with rookies during practice, but also vying for a spot on the Falcons’ 53-man roster. Even on Wednesday, Dent smiled and chuckled at the thought of worrying about his reps.
“It’s competition every year. That’s nothing new,” Dent said. “I mean every year it’s 90 guys out here competing for jobs so that’s something I’m always used to. It’s always going to be competition.”
Once the Falcons’ had ruled Weatherspoon out for the entire 2014 season, no active linebacker on the Falcons’ roster had more than two years in the NFL other than Dent.
Despite Dent’s slight advantage in terms of experience, Worrilow and Bartu took the majority of snaps with the first-team. In Dent’s absence on Thursday, rookie Marquis Spruill played alongside Shembo with rookies Brenden Daley and Yawin Smallwood subbing on the third-team.
“We’re always calibrating our roster. We’re always trying to put the most competitive roster in place to give our self the best opportunity to win,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said Thursday. “We appreciate everything that Akeem Dent has done for us over the last three years.”
Dent’s chances to compete have not diminished. Instead, he will do so as a Houston Texan. In a move likely to alleviate any growing pains courtesy of the youth at linebacker, the Falcons also acquired linebacker Tim Dobbins.
Dent left Wednesday’s practice unaware of the changes ahead; joining the Texans will be the first football move out of the state in his career, having played high school (Douglass), college (UGA) and professional football in Georgia until yesterday. Although the move is likely an unfamiliar experience for Dent, the trade itself provided little shock value.
As Smith said: “This is part of the business.”
June 22 through 28 – Rookie Symposium, Aurora, Ohio.
July 22 – Rookies report to training camp.
July 23 — First practice of training camp.
PRACTICES WITH TEXANS — Wednesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 14.
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