FLOWERY BRANCH — The names on offense are pretty well known: Roddy White, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Tony Gonzalez.
On defense it’s Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and John Abraham.
But when you speak of special teams, whose names come up the most inside the building at Falcons HQ? Believe it or not, it’s not a kicker or punter, or even a return guy. It’s hard to talk Falcons special teams and not mention rookie Akeem Dent and second-year safety Shann Schillinger.
Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong said he feels both Dent and Schillinger play hard, give top-notch effort, and are raising their games to the next level. It’s a mixture of intelligence and aggressiveness, but Armstrong likes the later just a bit more.
“I think it’s aggressiveness,” said Armstrong. “They’re getting some confidence in it and it’s Shann’s second year, he’s starting to believe what he sees now. The more confidence you have the harder you’re going to go because you trust your decisions.”
Dent leads the team with 11 tackles on special teams. Schillinger is a close second with eight.
Dent, a third-round draft pick in 2011, said coming in he knew he wanted to contribute on special teams. He’s even spent extra time off the field to make sure he’s a factor.
“One thing I do is I always go up and meet with Coach Armstrong one-on-one,” said Dent. “We try to break down schemes and get to know the opponent.”
Dent also said he’s bought into the aggressive part of Armstrong’s philosophy.
“It all comes down to running and hitting,” said Dent with a smile.
Schillinger credited Armstrong for helping him grasp the special teams’ scheme, and said knowing what his job is — and what it’s not — helps tremendously. He also said being in his second year under Armstrong, the game has slowed down dramatically.
But his success on special teams still comes down to Schillinger using his extensive knowledge, just as Armstrong mentioned.
“I don’t want to say that I’m a genius, but I try to pride myself on being smart,” said Schillinger. “I try to listen and try to understand what’s going on out there. I’m not as gifted athletically as some of these guys, so I have to use my smarts to make up for it.”