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New Plans for the Falcons at LB After Losing Lofa Tatupu

The Falcons are making new plans at middle linebacker after losing Lofa Tatupu for the season because of a chest muscle injury.

The Falcons reported Wednesday for Thursday’s first day of training camp with second-year player Akeem Dent suddenly cast as the favorite to replace Curtis Lofton in the middle of the defense. Dent spent most of his rookie season on special teams.

Tatupu, who signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with Atlanta in March, was released Wednesday. Only $600,000 of the deal was guaranteed.

Coach Mike Smith said Tuesday that Tatupu will have season-ending surgery after suffering the pectoral injury in a workout. Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler with Seattle, did not play last season and was expected to compete with Dent for the starting job.

“It’s hard replacing Tatupu,” defensive tackle Peria Jerry said Wednesday. “We wish him the best of luck in getting back to us.”

Another veteran linebacker, 36-year-old Mike Peterson, re-signed with the Falcons on Monday.

“Lofa is a good guy. It definitely was going to be good to play with Lofa,” said outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas. “Unfortunately things happen like that. I wish him the best. Football moves on. We signed back Mike Peterson and we’re going to put things together. I’m excited.”

Lofton, who led the team in tackles the last three years, signed with New Orleans.

With Lofton established at middle linebacker, there was little playing time on defense last season for Dent, who was a third-round pick in 2011 from Georgia.

Now Dent will have a chance to open the 2012 season as the starter.

“Akeem is definitely coming along,” Nicholas said. “He’s catching on to everything fast. He’s an ascending player.”

Tatupu had arthroscopic surgeries on both knees after the 2010 season but said he was physically ready to play last year.

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