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News » Lofton set to anchor defense

Lofton set to anchor defense

Lofton set to anchor defense
FLOWERY BRANCH --- For Curtis Lofton, the fog has cleared.

"Last year, I was just kind of learning on the go and just playing," he said.

Still Lofton, who was taken in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, managed to earn the starting middle linebacker position. He finished with 108 tackles, second in the league among rookies, behind New England's Jerod Mayo.

At this year's mini-camp, Lofton is feeling more at home.

"Now," he said, "I know what I'm doing. That allows me to play faster so I expect big things of myself."

After the season, Lofton decided to get smaller and, he hopes, faster. He has lost eight pounds and is down to 242, and he reduced his body fat from 15 percent to 9 percent.

Lofton is the lone returning starter along the linebacker unit. Longtime Falcon Keith Brooking signed with Dallas, and Michael Boley signed with the New York Giants, both in Free Agency.

Lining up next Lofton is Mike Peterson at weakside linebacker and Stephen Nicholas at strongside. Peterson played in coach Mike Smith's defense when he was an assistant in Jacksonville.

"Pete has been in the system for years, and Steve has a few years now," Lofton said. "They are looking to me as a leader, but there are other leaders. ... So it's just a matter of us working together."

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who coached Peterson when he was the linebackers coach in Jacksonville, is watching the unit closely.

"The chemistry part is always a challenge," VanGorder said. "But certainly when you have a lot of new personnel, to collectively bring them together, the same standards and expectations, I think it's something that you're conscience of every day."

Lofton concurs with VanGorder on the chemistry issue.

"Right now, it's about getting to know each other and bonding," Lofton said.

Last season, Lofton came off the field on third downs when the Falcons went to their nickel package. This season, he's scheduled to stay on the field and help in pass coverage.

"He's just going to continue to improve," VanGorder said.

In front of Lofton, the Falcons will have a new nose tackle. Last season's starter, Grady Jackson, signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent. First-round draft pick Peria Jerry, veteran Jason Jefferson and Trey Lewis, who is coming back from two surgeries on his right knee, will compete for that starting spot.

The spot is key for Lofton because the nose tackle can keep guards from attempting to block him.

"Trey is really a big guy," Lofton said. "He moves really well."

Lofton has noticed a change, no matter which tackle has been in front of him, during this mini-camp.

"The big thing that I see in our defensive line is that they are more explosive," Lofton said.

The Falcons also plan to play some alternating four-man and three-man fronts, depending on the situation. Lofton doesn't expect that to change his role.

"Whatever they call, we still have to play," Lofton said.

In total, VanGorder is looking for five new starters --- safety Lawyer Milloy was a free agent the Falcons chose not to try to bring back, and cornerback Domonique Foxworth signed with Baltimore in Free Agency. With Lofton in place, at least he doesn't have to worry about the middle linebacker spot.

"We always feel that things will sort themselves out," VanGorder said. "We just have to remind the guys on a daily basis that it's a competitive situation. They are competing for playing time."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 11, 2009

Stanley Wilson Name: Stanley Wilson
Position: CB
Age: 25
Experience: 4 years
College: Stanford
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