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SmashMouth 08-10-2012 08:42 AM

New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
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No doubt the New Orleans Saints and their fans would like the film of the painful exhibition passed off as professional football Thursday night to be canned, sealed and consigned to some dusty archive, never to be seen again.

http://media.nola.com/saints_impact/...6818-large.jpg

But at least a few frames of the digital record of the Patriots 7-6 defeat of New Orleans may reverberate beyond Gillette Stadium. Indeed, the game's dull ripples could wash up in federal district court in New Orleans, where a hearing is slated for Friday that suddenly carries less interest to Saints fans than it might have two weeks - or even two days - ago.

That's because the Saints signed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in the offseason, and Lofton's play early has been at a level that makes the possible loss of middle linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Vilma a lot more palatable to those whose chief concern is whether the Saints win or lose. What Lofton has done on the field, in other words, now overshadows what Vilma is doing in the courtroom.

This is not to knock Vilma, who has been an important contributor to the Saints football and locker room and who remains one of the better acquisitions of General Manager Mickey Loomis' New Orleans tenure. Still, while Saints coaches and players voice concrete commitment to Vilma's essence it's hard to shake the feeling the same attitude toward's Vilma's presence softens each day. "There's always a spot for Jonathan Vilma," as linebackers and interim head coach Joe Vitt put it this week in Boston, but even if Vilma magically waved away his legal and medical limbo, with Lofton healthy just where would that spot be?

Lofton was the best defensive player on the field Thursday night. On the first four Patriots plays that resulted in tackles, Lofton made or assisted on every one of them. He ranged to his right fluidly and with speed and crushed former LSU back Stevan Ridley then, the next play, helped bring down tight end Aaron Hernandez just short of a first down.
Lofton even had an impact on plays where he's a phantom on the stat sheet. After a special teams penalty nullified a New England punt and gave the Patriots another possession, Lofton used his left shoulder to level Rob Gronkowski, the 6-foo-6, 265-pound Patriot who is paired with Jimmy Graham in discussions of the game's best young tight ends. Two other Saints defenders were credited with the tackle, but it was Lofton who delivered the play's coup de grace.

All told, Lofton was credited with two solo stops and four assists to go along with a fumble recovery. That came when Lofton ranged eight yards deep in the Patriots backfield and picked up the ball jarred loose when defensive end Will Smith sacked quarterback Tom Brady.

Five days earlier in Canton, Lofton had three tackles, one of them for a loss. This is a sort of complete and dynamic linebacking the Saints haven't seen since, say, Vilma was 100 percent. "He's just lighting people up," one Saints staffer said admiringly Thursday night as the players filed into the post-game locker room.

Right now, Lofton is looking like one of the NFL's best free agent pickups in 2012. He has comfortably filled the leadership mantle left in a heap by Vilma's absence, and he is giving the lie to what he always felt was a smear anyway: the notion floated during his free agency that somehow he wasn't a "three-down" linebacker.

Linebacker Scott Shanle has played alongside Vilma and Lofton, in addition to watching Lofton for four years as a divisional rival with the Falcons. A chip on the shoulder is a good thing to have in football, Shanle noted, and certainly the chip installed when a team deserts a defensive mainstay, as Atlanta seemed to do with Lofton, is a weighty one.

"I felt like ever since I've been in the league there's been people who said I couldn't cut, that I wasn't fast enough, that I'm too small to play," Lofton said. "Well, I just took that as something to motivate me, fuel to my fire. And so when I step on the field I feel like I've got to prove something every single time. I always want to prove those people wrong and play the best I can for my team."

Lofton has been around the NFL long enough to know it's not cool to stake a claim on a prized and popular teammate's job. On the other hand, he's a competitive professional who wants to play and prove something. He didn't refer to Vilma by name Thursday, but he's never evinced any interest in being an understudy, either.

"I think it just fell upon me naturally," Lofton said when asked about stepping into the starring role previously played by Vilma. "I'm not a rah-rah guy, I do everything. I put my head down and I go to work and I lead by example. You know, the guys really bought into that. In this system, the middle linebacker he's kind of the coach on the field so the guys know I've got a lot on my plate and they back me and support me."

And thus it becomes clearer with each passing day Vilma is fighting perhaps not just for his 2012 season in federal courts but for his professional football career. Should Vilma win his case, there is a strong chance he would begin this campaign on the physically unable to perform list, another sort of absence that would make the new guy in the middle of a new system installed by a new defensive coordinator look more and more like The Man.

"Each day's been a growing day for me and I've put a lot on my plate," Lofton said. "I love this defense, Coach Spags, and we've got great players."

link back

TheOak 08-10-2012 08:53 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
There is an underlying theme in this statement.
"I felt like ever since I've been in the league there's been people who said I couldn't cut, that I wasn't fast enough, that I'm too small to play," Lofton said. "Well, I just took that as something to motivate me, fuel to my fire. And so when I step on the field I feel like I've got to prove something every single time. I always want to prove those people wrong and play the best I can for my team."


Think Brees and what drives him.

SmashMouth 08-10-2012 09:08 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
Lofton looks like the real deal...

halloween 65 08-10-2012 10:01 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
I think Lofton is what we have been needing in the middle for a while now, solid,with his nose to the grind stone. If Vilma returns he should be a decent back-up if he heals up. I really like our 3 starters.

|Mitch| 08-10-2012 10:26 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by halloween 65 (Post 426134)
I think Lofton is what we have been needing in the middle for a while now, solid,with his nose to the grind stone. If Vilma returns he should be a decent back-up if he heals up. I really like our 3 starters.

If Vilma comes back he can replace Shanle... Vilma, Lofton, Hawthorne would be formidable for any offense...

Luda34 08-10-2012 12:22 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
I love Vilma but if he Lofton keeps playing the way his playing. He won't be playing for the Saints anytime soon.

Brandon428 08-10-2012 12:53 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
Lofton is our MLB now theres no way Vilma can beat him for that spot. Lofton is every bit as good as I hoped he would be. The guy is a beast! Chamberlain has also been impressing me. Morgan and Tanner are getting me pretty excited also! I really love how well Tanner runs his routes. Never ceases to amaze me how the Saints can find these diamonds in the rough.

SapperSaint 08-10-2012 02:19 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
If Vilma comes back...

Shanle rides the pine

AlaskaSaints 08-10-2012 03:04 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
Shanle needs a plane ticket back to Nebraska.

If that happens to be made of pine... So be it... but...

Alaska

Rugby Saint II 08-10-2012 03:41 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton dims fears over loss of his suspended predecessor
 
Curtis isn't the field General yet.


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