CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Pat Schiller #53 of the Northern Illinois Huskies pours water on his face near the end of a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field on September 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Wisconsin defeated Northern Illinois 49-7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Falcons have a question mark at middle linebacker right now, one so large that it's threatening to drown out the good work the rest of the defense is doing.
With Akeem Dent concussed, the only legitimate starting option in Atlanta is at least temporarily sidelined. I like his chances of being a quality player in 2012, but with him out, the Falcons are going to be trotting out a truly motley crew of backups and rookies to compete for his backup.
I'm not saying Dent will be injury prone, but if he should go down in the regular season, the Falcons don't have a ton of great backups options. That's why I'll be watching guys like Pat Schiller closely.
Mike Peterson is the clear-cut starter while Dent is out, but he's in the clear decline phase of his career. It's rookies and younger players like Schiller and Jerell Harris who have a chance to hold down a backup gig for a few years, and Schiller perhaps more than anyone.
Schiller was a mighty successful linebacker at NIU, piling up more than 100 tackles to go with two sacks, several pass breakups and a few tackles for losses to boot. He doesn't have the highest upside, in terms of pure athletic ability, but he's solid enough reserve option. With significant playing time, he just may prove it out.
I like Peterson and I'd ultimately be comfortable with him as Dent's backup, but players like Schiller can potentially provide a little more for a little less money.
Of course, the Falcons could just use Robert James as an all-purpose backup, because if there's one thing this coaching staff loves, it's Robert James. What do you think?