"I really like playing next to the young guys," Peterson said. "They are hitters and like to play fast. Playing next to the young guys makes you feel young, too." Peterson, a 10-year veteran, has played all three linebacker positions over his career. But he most recently played middle linebacker in Jacksonville.
"It's going well being back outside," Peterson said. "It's not altogether a new thing for me. I've played there earlier in my career." After spending the last six years in Jacksonville, Peterson was the team's top free agent signing. He's settling into the spot that was manned by longtime fan favorite and five-time Pro Bowler Keith Brooking.
"I'm loving it," Peterson said. "It's good to be in a new situation."
It's really not a totally new situation for Peterson. He played for Falcons coach Mike Smith, when was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. Actually, Peterson knows the team's defense better than most of the returning players. "It's always good to have guys that are familiar with your scheme," Smith said. "Mike can be a mentor to those linebackers because he has played this defense going on his sixth year."
Lofton is a second-year starter and Nicholas, is a potential first-year starter. Peterson will be expected to be Smith's voice in the linebacker meetings.
"Often times it's good to hear it from a different voice," Smith said. "It might not be said the exact same way, but the information is the same."
Peterson welcomes the leadership role. "It's nothing that I'm not comfortable with doing or anything I have been asked to do before," he said.
--In one of their stunning road victories on the way to an 11-5 record, the Falcons created seven fumbles and recovered four against Minnesota. They turned those fumbles into 10 points and went on the win 24-17 and clinch a playoff berth. However, that was a rare outing. Last season, the Falcons forced only 18 turnovers, which was tied with San Francisco and Washington for 28th (out of 32) in the league. Only Jacksonville (17) and Denver (13) had fewer.
The team's minus-3 turnover/takeaway ratio was 21st in the league. "We definitely want to be a more aggressive unit that can create some turnovers," linebacker Michael Peterson said. "We want to be an aggressive and attacking defense."
After reviewing the video from last season, the coaching staff decided to make creating more turnovers a point of emphasis this offseason. "Now, we've got a few guys who understand the verbiage and we can put more emphasis on turning the ball over," Smith said. "That's one of the things in our offseason study that we felt like we needed to improve on."
--Newly acquired tight end Tony Gonzalez, defensive end John Abraham, kicker Jason Elam and rookie cornerback Chris Owens did not attend the non-mandatory OTA session. "I can assure you this: I've talked to every one of them and I know where they are," coach Mike Smith said. Owens, a third-round draft pick, per league rules, could not attend because his college class at San Jose State has not graduated.
--WR Khalil Jones, an undrafted wide receiver from Miami (Fla.) signed with Atlanta. He caught just 13 passes in four seasons, but also ran track for the Hurricanes.
--After Michael Vick left federal prison in Kansas for home confinement in Virginia, Falcons owner Arthur Blank reiterated that the former face of the franchise won't play for the team again. "As Michael nears the completion of his sentence, I wish the best for him and his family," Blank said. "It is my sincere hope that he has learned from his mistakes and will move forward in a productive and positive manner.
"The Falcons maintain Michael's contractual rights for now, but he will not be playing for us in the future. In the event NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decides to reinstate Michael to the NFL, we feel his best opportunity to re-engage his football career would be at another club. >From a personal standpoint, I will continue to be supportive of Michael in any way that would be positive, constructive and helpful."
Vick is currently suspended by the NFL. Goodell says Vick could gain re-instatement only if he shows genuine remorse and demonstrates he can be a positive influence. The Falcons are trying to trade Vick's rights, but so far there has been little interest.
--Falcons WR Roddy White talked to Vick three times while he was in prison. "I just hope that he's going to get to play again," White said. "Hopefully he'll get to play this season." White was a member of the "Free Vick Five" who were fined by the NFL for displaying signs of support during a 34-14 defeat to New Orleans on Dec. 10, 2007. That was the day Vick was sentenced to 23-months in prison and appeared in a Richmond courthouse wearing a stripped black and white prison outfit. White got fined $10,000 for wearing a "Free Mike Vick" shirt.
Joe Horn, Alge Crumpler, DeAngelo Hall and Chris Houston were also fined by the league for supporting Vick. "Yeah, I paid my fine," White said. "We disputed it and they didn't give me any of my money back; that kind of upset me."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know he's been waiting for this day so he can get back home with his family and his kids." -- Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White about Michael Vick's release from prison to home confinement.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Curtis Lofton, who was taken in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, managed to earn the starting middle linebacker job. He finished with 108 tackles, second most in the league for a rookie behind New England's Jerod Mayo. Lofton is feeling more at home.
After the season, Lofton decided to get smaller and, hopefully, faster. He's lost eight pounds and is down to 242, and he reduced his body fat from 15 percent to 9 percent. With all of the offseason moves, Lofton is the lone returning starter along the linebacker unit. Longtime Falcon Keith Brooking left to sign with Dallas, and Michael Boley signed with the New York Giants in free agency.
Last season, Lofton came off the field on third downs when the Falcons went to their nickel package. He's slated to stay on the field and help in pass coverage.
MEDICAL WATCH: Rookie first-round pick defensive tackle Peria Jerry suffered a mild right knee sprain.
--CB Von Hutchins (broken foot) is expected to return for some action during Organized Team Activities.
--CB David Irons (knee) is expected late in training camp.
--OL Alex Stepanovich (back) is expected back by mini-camp.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: P/K Michael Koenen: Tendered at $2.483M; signed tender Feb. 17.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OT Wayne Gandy.
--SS Lawyer Milloy.
--TE Marcus Pollard.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--OT Pat McCoy (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RT Tyson Clabo (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has started for last two seasons and played with mean streak.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--OL Renardo Foster.
--OG Harvey Dahl: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--DE Chauncey Davis: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, guarantee unknown.
--S Jamaal Fudge: Potential RFA; terms unknown.
--LB Tony Gilbert: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Brent Grimes: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Antoine Harris: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Jason Jefferson: UFA; terms unknown.
--P/K Michael Koenen: FFA; $2.483M/1 yr.
--TE Justin Peelle: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--RB Jason Snelling: ERFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Ben Wilkerson (not tendered as RFA); $535,000/1 yr.
--LB Coy Wire: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Tony Gonzalez (trade Chiefs).
--MLB Mike Peterson: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Brett Romberg: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: FA; terms unknown.
--LB Michael Boley: UFA Giants; $25M/5 yrs, $11M guaranteed.
--LB Keith Brooking: UFA Cowboys; $6M/3 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
--CB Domonique Foxworth: UFA Ravens; $27.2M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$3.38 report bonus/$16.5M guaranteed.
--DE Simon Fraser (released).
--DT Grady Jackson: UFA Lions; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DT Kindal Moorehead (released).
--WR Laurent Robinson (traded Rams).
--LT Todd Weiner (retired).