Lofton aims to end former team's unbeaten run


Lofton aims to end former team's unbeaten run

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Linebacker Curtis Lofton left Atlanta just in time to miss out on the Falcons' best start to a season in franchise history.

Now a defensive leader for the struggling Saints, Lofton insists he has no regrets, did what was right for him and is eager to experience one of the NFL's more intense and longstanding rivalries from the other side when the Saints (3-5) host unbeaten Atlanta (8-0) on Sunday.

``Yeah, I'm excited to play these guys after playing for them,'' Lofton said this week. ``It's ifs, ands, woulda, coulda - now we'll see what happens.''

It can be difficult to read in the loquacious Lofton's playful grin whether he harbors any real resentment about his departure from Atlanta. On one hand, he says it's nothing personal, but sometimes he'll throw in a few extra comments insinuating that he felt somewhat underappreciated.

``I look at it as I left. I mean, they offered me and they wanted me to stay, but I just felt better'' moving to New Orleans, Lofton said. ``I wanted to go to a team that celebrated me, not tolerated me. That's the way that I felt. I'm happy that I'm here and I'm excited for this game.''

Lofton signed a five-year, $27.5 million free-agent deal with the Saints last spring, and the timing seemed ominous for incumbent starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Vilma not only had undergone offseason knee surgery but also had been implicated in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints.

When training camp began, Vilma's since-vacated season-long suspension was in effect, and Lofton immediately assumed the starting middle linebacker role which he continues to hold even as Vilma has worked his way back onto the field.

Vilma has played mostly spot duty at outside linebacker since returning in Week 7 against Tampa Bay. He acknowledges that it's a little odd to see someone else owning his position, relaying play calls from the defensive coordinator as he once did, but said he likes working with Lofton.

``When we're out there together - you saw it the last game - I made some plays, he made some plays. Hopefully we make plays together, it doesn't matter,'' Vilma said. ``Sometimes he'll see things I don't see. Sometimes I see things he doesn't see. ... We can almost communicate simultaneously. I can communicate to the back end while he's talking to the (defensive) line or vice versa, so it's actually been really good.''

Lofton leads the club with 76 tackles, including four tackles for losses and one sack. He also has a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Falcons coach Mike Smith referred to Lofton as a ``tackling machine'' who he would have liked to keep if not for a free agency system that inevitably causes teams to lose good players now and then.

``Curtis was an integral part to our success in our first four years here,'' Smith said. ``The way that the league is set up, with free agency and everything, you'd like to be able to sign all of your players back, but it's just not possible. Curtis had been a leader for us and had done a very good job. Unfortunately, the way that the league is set up, guys are going to change teams. I miss Curtis.''

Some of Lofton's old teammates seem to miss him, too, even if they opt for a tongue-and-cheek way of expressing it.

``I've talked to Curtis a couple of times,'' said Falcons receiver Roddy White, who worked out some with Lofton last offseason. ``I told him I'd be looking for him. Tell him when I come over the middle, I'm going to be looking for him. I hope he gets the message.''

Falcons running back Michael Turner added: ``It's going to be weird, especially to see him wearing those colors. I'm pretty sure he's going to be juiced up for this game. I look forward to playing him.''

While Lofton stresses that his decision to play for New Orleans was more professional than personal, he said he understands why Falcons fans, and maybe even some former teammates, see him as a turncoat. And he doesn't seem all that concerned with trying to change their minds.

``When I was with the Falcons, I hated the Saints. Now I'm with the Saints, I hate the Falcons,'' Lofton said. ``Both of these cities hate each other and there's no love lost. So, it's a divisional game and we'll get it on. That makes it fun.''

Notes: Saints assistant he coach Joe Vitt said RB Darren Sproles (lef hand), WR-KR Courtney Roby (left shoulder), DE Junior Galette (left ankle) and RT Zach Strief (left groin), who all have missed practice this week, will not play Sunday. ... Vitt said Strief spent part of the week seeing a specialist in Philadelphia for his injury.


AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry contributed to this report from Flowery Branch, Ga.


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

The Anthony Davis trade will have ripple effects across the NBA, not only on teams, but also on the players involved.

Josh Hart, who was traded from the Lakers to the Pelicans as part of the package for Davis on Saturday, could stand to benefit from the move.

First, here's a look at all of the assets reportedly swapped in the deal, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Now, where does the Silver Spring, Md., native figure in the proceedings?

Hart spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers. He averaged 7.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game in his two years in Los Angeles. 

Still, Hart was often the Lakers' third or fourth option at shooting guard behind starter Brandon Ingram and shared minutes with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Lance Stephenson. 

LeBron James and the Lakers' win-now strategy left little room to develop Hart last season.

Now in New Orleans, he is part of a franchise rebuilding around presumptive No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. The trade gave the Pelicans both a younger roster and a long enough timeline for success to develop players.

That can only be good news for Hart, giving him the chance to start fresh and impress Pelicans general manager David Griffin and head coach Alvin Gentry with his potential. 

Where the Sidwell Friends alum fits into the lineup depends on several factors.

At first glance, the new-look Pelicans could start Lonzo Ball at point guard, move Jrue Holiday to shooting guard, then complete the lineup with Ingram at small forward, Williamson at power forward and Julius Randle at center. 

If both Ingram and Holiday remain healthy, Hart would compete with Stanley Johnson to be the first wing off the bench for New Orleans.

But if Ingram does suffer recurring issues related to blood clots, Hart could press his case to start. 

The only issue complicating his place in New Orleans' plans is the No. 4 pick that was traded from the Lakers.

If the Pelicans keep that pick and draft a wing player like Jarrett Culver, Hart could find himself on the outside looking in again. 


Quick Links

Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

According to a report from ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Pelicans' forward Anthony Davis in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and multiple first-round draft picks, including the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The announcement comes less than 48 hours into the NBA offseason, although the rumors and speculation of the deal has been a prominent storyline for months.

The much-anticipated deal gives the Lakers the star they've been trying to pair with LeBron James for some time and gives the Pelicans a young nucleus to build around the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. 

According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, the Boston Celtics refused to part ways with promising forward Jayson Tatum in a potential trade with New Orleans.

The Celtics had been in the mix for Davis, but with Kyrie Irving likely headed for the exits, Danny Ainge was unwilling to part with his young assets in exchange for the one year remaining on Davis' contract.

Before the Davis domino fell, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes wrote about how a Davis trade could impact Bradley Beal's value

The Lakers, Knicks and Celtics all appear to want Davis and only one can get him, if he is even traded at all.

If the quest for Davis comes down to those three teams, there will be at least two that lose out.

The Knicks or Celtics now must determine whether trading for Beal is their next-best option behind Davis.