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Falcons still working on defense


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http://www.ajc.com/services/content/sports...=7&cxcat=21

By D. ORLANDO LEDBETTER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dana Point, Calif. — The Falcons took the sandblaster to the offense last season, and their relative inactivity in free agency this year makes it clear that the defense currently is under reconstruction.

Five starters left through free agency, and the Falcons are set to rebuild their linebacker unit around second-year player Curtis Lofton.

“We felt very good about what Curtis Lofton was able to do as a rookie for us and start in our base package,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said earlier this week at the NFL owners meeting. “Curtis is going to get an opportunity to be a three-down player this season.”

Last season, Lofton played on first and second downs and would leave the game on third downs or other obvious passing situations. Among NFL rookies, he was second with 94 tackles behind New England inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had 128.

This season, Lofton will be the lone returning starter after outside linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley signed with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, respectively. Also three other starters — defensive tackle Grady Jackson (Detroit), cornerback Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore) and safety Lawyer Milloy (unsigned) — will not return.

“They went in free agency,” Smith said. “We didn’t let them go.”

Coy Wire, who played for Boley late last season in running situations, was re-signed after becoming an unrestricted free agent, and Smith said Stephen Nicholas, a third-year player, will compete for a starting job.

The Falcons’ biggest offseason signing was linebacker Mike Peterson, a former starter with Jacksonville and Indianapolis, who will get the first shot at replacing Brooking on the weak side.

Smith said Peterson is capable of playing all three linebacker positions. He also said the weakside and strongside linebacker positions are “interchangeable” in his defense, which puts a premium on speed and attacking the ball.

So instead of the Brooking-Lofton-Boley grouping the Falcons used the majority of last season, the rebuilt unit figures to be Peterson-Lofton and Wire or Nicholas.

The Falcons also has some depth in Robert James, a fifth-round draft pick in 2008 who spent the season on injured reserve and Tony Gilbert, who was on the roster all season but was inactive for each game. Smith also said the team likely will add at least one linebacker in the upcoming draft.

In the secondary, the Falcons must replace Foxworth and Milloy.

“We are returning a starter at corner in Chris Houston,” Smith said. “When we started [the season] last year, Brent Grimes was a starting cornerback. We are anticipating Brent to come back.”

Thomas DeCoud, a third-round pick last season, will battle Jamaal Fudge for Milloy’s vacant spot opposite Erik Coleman.

“For Thomas, this is a great opportunity for him to have shot,” Smith said.

Replacing nose tackle Grady Jackson could be problematic.

“I’m excited that Trey Lewis is healthy,” Smith said. “He was very impressive on tape during the 2007 season when we evaluated him. He’ll be an important evaluation for us.”

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yea.. i like this...... the more i hear the coaching staff the more i think that we wont take a LB day 1(unless something crazy happen)......... i cant wait .

i think Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing will be off the board at the 24th pick...... i think TD will trade back or out of the 1st round (pickup more picks)

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yea.. i like this...... the more i hear the coaching staff the more i think that we wont take a LB day 1(unless something crazy happen)......... i cant wait .

i think Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing will be off the board at the 24th pick...... i think TD will trade back or out of the 1st round (pickup more picks)

What are you talking about? Smitty said we'll take "at least" one linebacker in the draft... if anything that would make me think we're almost certain to take a day 1 LB.

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