Elite NFL defenders earn big paychecks by making plays. Few players have made more plays the past four seasons than New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, the former Oklahoma standout from Kingfisher.
Since the 2009 season, Lofton ranks third in the NFL in tackles.
“It's something I expect,” Lofton said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “As long as I stay healthy, I feel with my work ethic and film study I'm going to be one of the top four or five guys (in tackles) every year I'm in the league.”
A second-round pick in 2008, Lofton was viewed as a key addition for the Saints when he signed with the team a year ago. Lofton spent his first four NFL seasons playing for division rival Atlanta.
A year removed from the Bountygate scandal that torpedoed their season, the Saints could be a Super Bowl contender — if the defense can prevent quarterback Drew Brees and a dynamic offense from having to consistently win shootouts.
New Orleans ranked 32nd — dead last — in total defense last season. The Saints allowed 440.1 yards a game, 50 more yards than the New York Giants, the 31st ranked defense. The Saints allowed 28.4 points a game, second-highest in the league.
“We have one of the top offenses in the league,” Lofton said. “That's how this team is built. But it goes hand in hand. With a great offense you need a great defense. We work together.
“Sometimes the offense isn't clicking, so the defense has to keep putting them back on the field and hold the other team to field goals. This year I think our defense will do a good job of that.”
New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the outspoken coach who was fired last season by the Dallas Cowboys, has brought a new attitude.
“He's a great defensive coordinator,” Lofton said. “We're changing the culture around here defensive-wise. We're off to a good start. We're going to try to build off that and get better each and every single day.”
In the season opener, a 23-17 win over Atlanta, the Saints limited the high-powered Falcons to 3-of-11 on third downs and forced two turnovers, including a game-clinching interception. It was a promising start for a defense that lost four starters to injuries in preseason.
Lofton, who signed a five-year deal worth up to $27.5 million, is the heart of New Orleans defense.
“What you get with Curtis is a steady linebacker,” Saints linebacker coach/assistant head coach Joe Vitt told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “He can protect in the paint (the space between the hash marks) and he really tackles well in the paint.
“But what you don't know about a player until he gets here is what kind of person he is. Curtis has earned the respect of every player in our locker room.”
Film study the key