Raiders LB Curtis Lofton: New Man in the Middle

LB Curtis Lofton is entering his 8th season in the NFL. A look at his career in photos.

The Raiders linebacking corps is young with Khalil Mack heading into his second year, Sio Moore entering his third season, and a 25-year-old Malcolm Smith and a handful of 2015 Draft picks joining the ranks. LB Curtis Lofton is the veteran of the group. The middle linebacker has seven years of NFL experience under his belt – four years with the Atlanta Falcons and three years in New Orleans.

"I wanted to be part of something special and I think we've got something special here growing." - LB Curtis Lofton



LB Curtis Lofton, DE Justin Tuck and S Charles Woodson. Photo by Tony Gonzales

Lofton's position on defense is instrumental to a team's success – the middle linebacker is the one who relays the play call from the defensive coordinator. It requires a deep understanding of the defense and great trust from teammates.

The Oklahoma-native is using the offseason to acquire both. "You have a reputation that people know who you are, but at the same time, you have to come in and earn everyone's respect," Lofton explained. "That's what I've been doing and how you earn everyone's respect is by coming in, studying, knowing the defense, and helping guys get lined up and just working. The work is going to speak for itself."

Lofton has appeared in all 112 games in his career, the longest active streak among inside linebackers. He understands his role in the middle. "I lead by example, but at the same time, if something needs to be said, I don't have a problem saying it."

Lofton joined the Raiders as a free agent at the beginning of March. He arrived in Oakland without any expectations of making a decision on his playing future, but was impressed by his experience during his visit. "I felt the energy of the entire coaching staff," said Lofton. "The tradition here is something special and this great fan base – I wanted to be part of something special and I think we've got something special here growing."

The coaching staff was a big draw for Lofton, particularly the fact that three former linebackers (one played in college and two in the NFL) are leading his squad. "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 explained. "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."

"He's a veteran linebacker, understands what it takes to perform in this league." - Head Coach Jack Del Rio

Linebackers coach Sal Sunseri played linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh and has been coaching that position, or the defensive line, since 1985.

"Coach Sunseri – I love him," said Lofton. "It's very unique that you have a guy that's played your same position, so when you talk to him, he sees it how a player sees it. He does a good job of giving us good drills and putting us in position to make plays, and also pushing us knowledge-wise."

Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. played in the league for 13 years and Lofton is particularly excited to learn from the long-time linebacker. "Playing for him, he's a burst of energy. He gets it going and we feed off of that. He's played many years in the NFL, especially being a linebacker, you can pick his brain, and that's what I've been doing."

Head Coach Jack Del Rio played 11 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL. He knows what it takes to be successful and likes the presence Lofton brings to the center of the defense. "Curtis is a nice addition to the team," said Head Coach Del Rio. "He's a veteran linebacker, understands what it takes to perform in this league. He's doing a good job of providing some of that leadership in the meeting rooms and out on the field."

Because of the coaches' playing experience and success, the defense, particularly the linebackers, understand that expectations are high. "I think when you have those guys, Coach Rio, Coach Norton and Sal, you already know as a linebacker, your expectations, where you thought they were, they're much higher," said Lofton "As a group, we challenge each other, push each other, to meet those expectations. We've been doing a good job and we still have a lot left to grow."

Lofton, despite seven years of experience, believes there's always more to learn, and is taking advantage of the depth of knowledge his coaches bring to the table.

"The number one thing that we have to do is listen," said Lofton. "You've got to open up and absorb the information. Be a sponge. Those guys have been in your position. They've done everything and seen everything. When they're telling you something, it's not just 'coach talk.' It's players that have played that are now coaches. That helps you out just that much more. Even when you're watching film, my coach will tell me that my steps are off here, and he knows that by having my steps off, I'm going to miss out on plays. Being a sponge and absorbing it is going to help us be better."

"As a group, we challenge each other, push each other, to meet those expectations." - LB Curtis Lofton

And Lofton is making sure the young players are embracing their opportunities to learn and grow as well. "The young guys get their lead from us older guys so I think they definitely sense it and we talk about it," Lofton said. "It's about them being sponges and absorbing everything they can and that's what they've been doing."

With a young, motivated squad and the solid veteran core of DE Justin Tuck up front, Lofton in the middle, and S Charles Woodson in the secondary, the Raiders defense has the potential to make big strides in 2015.

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