ALAMEDA (AP) — After getting over the sting of being cut by the New Orleans Saints this offseason, Curtis Lofton set out to find a new home.
When the opportunity came up to play for the Oakland Raiders, who had a head coach and defensive coordinator who both played middle linebacker in the NFL like Lofton, he knew it was the perfect spot to revive his career.
Despite making 111 starts in his first seven seasons, Lofton believed that Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. had plenty of tidbits they could pass on about how to quarterback a defense that could lead to improvement in his own game.
“To me, that was one of the things that was appealing about coming here. You’ve got two linebackers that played in the NFL for many years. That’s a ton of knowledge and experience,” Lofton said. “I’m still young now, but as I get older in my career, that is something I can lean on and learn from. I can pick their brain and they can take my game to the next level.”
Since entering the league with Atlanta in 2008, Lofton has not missed a single game and made more starts than any other linebacker in the league in a sign of his durability and consistency. He ranks third in the league in solo tackles and second in total tackles in that span and was a defensive captain on the Saints the past two seasons.
But New Orleans still decided to let Lofton go in a salary cap move last March, raising questions about whether the 29-year-old Lofton has lost a step in recent years.
“I’ve had something to prove every single year I’ve been in the league,” Lofton said. “When I first got drafted they said I was too small, couldn’t play. I was too slow. I proved that wrong. Then it’s just one thing after another, one thing after another. I’m a great player. I had 144 tackles last year. I guess there’s a certain stigma about me doing this or doing that. I carry that chip on my shoulder every day. Every game I have something to prove and I continue to do it.”
Upgrading the middle linebacker position was a high priority this offseason for the Raiders, who lost starter Nick Roach during an exhibition game last summer to a season-ending concussion. Miles Burris struggled as he tried to fill in for Roach and contributed to Oakland allowing the most points in the NFL last season.
The Raiders pounced quickly to sign Lofton in the opening week of free agency
“When you have a former middle linebacker as your coordinator and a former middle linebacker as your head coach, that position becomes very important,” Norton said.
“You look at Curtis’ background and he’s played a lot of football for a long time and hasn’t missed any games. So, he’s very, very productive. Very smart. Knows how to play ball. And knows how to run the defense. And he’s a guy I’m glad we have.”
Despite starting all 16 games last season, Burris never even got invited to another camp after being cut by Oakland in May in a sign of how lowly regarded he was by the other 31 teams.
Lofton gives the Raiders the leader missing on their defense since Roach got hurt last summer.
“Any time you have a veteran signal caller, a guy that’s done it and done it at a high level, it definitely helps your defense,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “The DBs and the d-line, you’re right there in the middle, you’re able to communicate, connect, and both of those guys, both Nick Roach and Curtis Lofton, they’re instinctive and they’re smart and they’re communicative.”