As Mike Smith has said dozens of times, "one man's misfortune is another's opportunity."
This week the opportunity comes for Akeem Dent, the team's middle linebacker in base packages. For much of this season, when the team moves into nickel packages, Dent has come off the field. His snap counts have ranged from single digits some weeks to every snap, which he experienced in Week 6 against Oakland.
With the announcement on Thursday that starting outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will miss Sunday's game against the Cowboys, Dent's role on Atlanta's defense will be increased. It's not the first time Dent has played in sub-packages because of an injured teammate. Earlier this season when Stephen Nicholas went down, Dent stepped in as he will on Sunday.
Smith said the good thing is Dent's familiar with what he will be doing beyond just studying this week. In addition to his reps replacing Nicholas, he gets time in practices as well.
"Akeem gets practice snaps all week when working in our sub-package during practice," Smith said. "He gets an opportunity to work there. The good thing is he's going to be playing the same role that he played when he filled in for Stephen. We kept him in his original role and had Sean play the other role. He's very familiar with that role; it's what he's been trained for. It's not just in one week."
Smith said Mike Peterson will play the outside in base packages against Dallas and in Atlanta's sub defense, Dent will slide from the middle to where Weatherspoon is typically stationed.
Dent, who isn't bothered by the fluctuations in snaps, said he always watches what Weatherspoon is doing so he can remain ready. The second-year linebacker takes pride in preparation and has a motto that fits this weekend's situation appropriately.
"Preparation always meets opportunity," Dent said. "You never know when we're going to have an injury in the game. Like last week, something happens and I'm the next guy in. You just always have to be prepared.