The Falcons have lost Curtis Lofton in free agency and Lofa Tatupu to injury. Due to this, Akeem Dent is being handed the starting middle linebacker job. However, Falcons fans will see a younger version of Jessie Tuggle in the young starter.
Jessie Tuggle is one of the few players to play their NFL career, college career and high school career all for teams in the state of Georgia. He played high school ball for Griffin High School, went to college at Valdosta State and then became a Falcons Ring of Honor member.
Akeem Dent is starting to follow in those footsteps already by following a similar path. He went to Douglass High School in the Atlanta area, then he went to the University of Georgia before getting drafted by the Falcons in the third round of the 2011 draft.
The similarities don't end there. Tuggle was known as a thumping middle linebacker who specialized in run defense and demolishing opponents, earning himself the nickname "the Hammer." Akeem Dent is a pounder as well who—much like Tuggle was before him—is adequate in coverage.
Another thing Dent shares with Tuggle is his constant willingness to improve and get better. While he didn't show he was a top-notch linebacker last year, part of that was because he was stuck behind four-year starter Curtis Lofton, who left because the Falcons wouldn't overpay for his services (h/t Pro Football Talk) with someone so similar behind him in Dent.
Dent will have to continue improving as a pro to fulfill these lofty expectations, and he'll have to lean on his mentors to help. He sounds like he is ready for the challenge (per AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox).
“I still have a whole lot of work to do,” he said Thursday. “When Lofa was here, he was helping me out and leading me. Bringing in Mike Peterson, it’s the same deal.”
So as long as he heeds the advice of his mentors and can apply the information they gave him to his game, he will improve tremendously. Lofton may be gone, but Dent will fill his role and looks like he will be the next multiple-Pro Bowl Falcons middle linebacker, joining Tuggle, Nobis and Brooking in that regard.
Dent has the it factor that Tuggle has, though. He will be able to take his raw natural talents and apply them to his first year. He will be a bit rough early in the season, but by the end, expect Dent to be the first Falcons middle linebacker in the Pro Bowl since Brooking was in one back in 2005.
Now, some may think that this is a bold and wild prediction. But after reviewing film and the entire situation, the comparisons are there all day. It's the league that has changed since Tuggle was the starting middle linebacker for Atlanta..
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek and also runs the NFL draft website ScarDraft.com and the host of Kvetching Draftniks Radio.