If you’ve spent any time at all around New Orleans middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, you know he’s a guy with a lot of pride.
That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised as I read through a transcript of Lofton’s quotes from Thursday’s media session. Lofton spent the past four seasons in Atlanta. When he hit the free-agent market, word got out that the Falcons viewed him only as a two-down linebacker going forward.
“When you are a free agent, every weakness you have, they are going to look at,’’ Lofton said. “If you look at my time in Atlanta, my first year I was a first- and second-down linebacker. My second year, I played more than 95 percent of the snaps. The past two years, I played 99 percent of the snaps. I guess, if you play 99 percent of the snaps, you couldn’t say that I was a first- and second-down linebacker.”
Lofton, who is expected to be a three-down linebacker with the Saints, admitted that label bothered him.
“As much as you don’t want it [to], it plays in the money,’’ Lofton said. “That’s what it comes down to. Every team has their makeup of what they think a player can do and what they think he can’t do. A lot of teams may have said that. A lot of teams didn’t. It is on me to prove those guys wrong. I do have that chip on my shoulder. Every day I am going to go out and get better, and work on my weaknesses.”
Lofton also said a few other things that at least look like they were veiled references to (or maybe even direct shots at) the Falcons. The Atlanta defense Lofton played in looked a little like what coordinator Steve Spagnoulo is implementing in New Orleans.
“They are similar, but they are not the same,’’ Lofton said. “Spags, I would say he is more aggressive, and I like that.’’
The Falcons like to preach a “family’’ concept, frequently saying they like to draft players, develop them, and keep them for the long term. They didn’t keep Lofton, even though he was a leader of their defense pretty much from the start of his rookie season.
“When I was going through the process and they said the Saints were interested in me, I only took one visit, and that was here,’’ Lofton said. “Up in Atlanta, I hated these guys. That is the rivalry, you hate each other. Once I got here, hanging around coach (Sean) Payton, (general manager) Mickey (Loomis), (assistant head coach Joe) Vitt, and coach Spags, it felt right,’’ Lofton said. "It was family. Before I made my decision, I called Harp (Roman Harper), I called Will (Smith), and they were very receptive. They talked to me and said 'Hey, we need you. Come be a part of something great.'"
The Falcons haven’t won a playoff game during a four-year streak of winning seasons, which is more than a little bit of a sore spot among Atlanta's front office, coaches, players, and fans. I’m not sure that Lofton was aiming for that spot, but it sure sounded like it.
“The reason why I came here is to win a championship, and that is what everyone’s expectations are,’’ Lofton said.
Sounds to me like the NFC South's best rivalry has become even more heated.