One of the Falcons players that may best know Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is rookie linebacker from the University of Georgia, Akeem Dent.
Dent entered UGA with Stafford as freshman and the linebacker said he knew one of the league's current bright young quarterback stars had what it took to make in the NFL someday. From day one, the renowned arm strength was hard to ignore.
"The first couple of days we were out there in pads our freshman year (we saw his talent)," Dent said on Wednesday. "We knew it then."
Dent followed his team's former quarterback when he came into the league as the draft's top overall pick in 2009. Injuries slowed Stafford's start but the talent was always there. This season, Stafford has begun to deliver on the promise that made him the top quarterback chosen two seasons ago.
"Injuries are something that are part of the game," Dent said. "Right now, he's overcome the injury part and he's doing a great job of leading his team."
Stafford, a thick quarterback with a rifle for an arm, is known for making big plays down the field. The status report on him says he's a classic pocket passer than can absorb hits and take shots down the field. Dent says he's a better athlete than he's given credit for and the Falcons will have to be mindful of that.
"He's one of those guys that are all-around," Dent said. "He's able to run. His arm is the main thing and he's always had a canon for an arm and able to get the ball to different receivers. As an athlete and a football player, he's one of those elite guys."
Dent last spoke to Stafford during the offseason while the quarterback was finishing up rehabbing an injury down in Florida. He expected to hear from his old teammate some time this week as they got ready to face each other.
The former UGA standout defensive player is proud of what the QB has done in the league, this season catapulting himself into the conversation for one of the next great signal callers in the league. There won't, however, be any reservations should Dent get a chance to take Stafford down. He wants to hit his former teammate.
Dent enters the game with the right mentality: chat after the game, play hard during. Sure, they were close teammates once before but that no longer matters.
"We're no longer teammates at that moment," Dent said. "After the game we can be friends, but during the game it's a whole different mentality."