Successful Sophomore Campaign?
Training camp, Friday Night Lights @ Brookwood, & the Roam the Dome updates will be posted in the comments section as they become available throughout the weekend.
Standout at Oklahoma
Taking Matt Ryan 3rd overall and moving up to snag Sam Baker at #21 in his first draft as General Manager of the Falcons is what most draft experts and NFL observers will remember. But the steal of the draft that Dimitroff quietly executed drew rave reviews by taking Curtis Lofton in the second round. If Matty Ice can be considered the building block of the offense for years to come, Lofton is surely Dimitroff’s foundational stamp for the defense in his revamping effort. Even though Lofton came into the league as a junior, he left quite a legacy at the University of Oklahoma (tackles (94 solo, 63 assists), 10.5 TFL, one sack, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions. He also scored two defensive touchdowns (one on an interception return and one on a fumble return). Playing many different positions at Oklahoma, many weren’t sure where he would fit in Coach Van Gorder and Smith’s defense. Was he more suited for an Outside Linebacker with his speed or Middle Linebacker with his sure tackling skills? Many wondered if Lofton could come in and contribute immediately due to his age and relative lack of experience, much less earn a starting position.
Great Rookie Campaign
Much like many other of Dimitroff’s first draft class, Lofton came in ready to compete intent on winning a starting position and not simply settling on earning playing time. He showed why he was so highly touted coming out in the draft. Lofton started in 15 out of 16 regular season games, collaring 94 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble stepping right in to have be a solid-to-great player in his first season at Middle Linebacker, a position filled with a ton of reads, schemes, and scenarios. Credit goes to Coach Van Gorder for putting Lofton in the right positions where he could do what he does best, run and hit. #50 used his speed and hard-hitting ability to have an outstanding year at Middle Linebacker against the run. He probably benefited from having Big Grady and his 350+ lb frame keep him free of centers, guards, and fullbacks; allowing him to read, react, and hit. Besides being a great hitter, a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, and overall mature rookie, Lofton showed excellent character and a good work ethic.
Every Down Linebacker?
If Lofton had such a magnificent year as a rookie at middle linebacker for the Falcons, why wasn’t he even mentioned for Defensive Rookie of the Year? There in lies the area of improvement that Lofton is striving towards. The MLB became considered a two-down back, staying in and working run-heavy downs that didn’t require a lot of pass coverage. In all obvious passing downs, he was taken out because he evidently was a liability in pass coverage. A cornerstone linebacker and player that a team wants to build their defense around can’t only stay in the game for 2 downs out of four and certainly can’t come out on the most important down of the series. From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that Lofton understands the importance of being an every down linebacker. He has used his superb work ethic to become leaner in the off-season and learn drops in pass coverage. The departures of Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy on defense created a chasm of veteran leadership and it looks like Lofton, only in his second year, is ready to step in and up to be that foundational block that Dimitroff had in mind when he drafted him.
Veteran Wide Receivers Added
With the season ending injury of Harry Douglas and the continued holdout of Roddy White, the Falcons moved to shore up their wide receiving corps that went from an enormous strength to a potential weakness in a split second. Dimitroff appears to be ready to play hardball with Roddy White and his agent as they continue their holdout. White and his agent seem to be losing in the court of public opinion in Falcons fans eyes with every passing day. The Falcons added Robert Ferguson and Marty Booker to the roster shoring up some much needed veteran leadership with the young receivers already in camp. Ferguson and Booker were obviously free agents for a reason, but in the right system they may can rediscover some of the magic they had earlier in their careers.
Not Ideal, But Make it Work
Assuming that White continues his holdout, Ferguson and Booker won’t have to be the #1 or #2 receivers with Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran seemingly taking those two spots. In fact, they may simply be asked to fill the #4 wide receiver spot, where Coach Smith can develop one of the younger receivers for the slot or scan the waiver wires once cuts begin across the league. This would put the receiving corps back where it was designed to be, having veterans at the key two starting positions (Jenkins, Finneran), a younger player in the slot, a more veteran receiver in the 4th spot (Ferguson, Booker), and have one of the guys in camp fight for the 5th and 6th spot (Weems, Williams, Bergeron, Mougey, Kelly). Let’s not mince words and say this is desirable or close to what we had hoped for, but great NFL teams roll with the punches and refuse to make excuses about injuries or selfish players and find a way to win. A look at the new veteran receiver additions.
Height – 6′1, Weight – 219, Age – 29
Career Stats: 151 Recs, 1,993 Yds, 13 TDs
Height – 6′0, Weight – 205, Age – 33
Career Stats: 523 Recs, 6,522 Yds, 36 TDs
Daily Tailgate Recipe
A little on the fancy side, but really good stuff from Guy Fieri. Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Barbecue Sauce, courtesy of Guy Fieri and FoodNetwork.com
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