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 FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -Go ahead and snicker. Lawyer Milloy believes the Atlanta Falcons will prove their critics wrong.
Despite quarterback Michael Vick's federal indictment and an unsettled defense using a new scheme, Milloy says Atlanta has as good a chance to win the NFC South as New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection insists he made the right decision to sign with the Falcons as a free agent last year even though Cincinnati offered a contract and Seattle hosted him for an overnight visit.
``No regrets whatsoever,'' Milloy said Thursday. ``It was the right move for my career, and my family loves it here. I'm excited about fulfilling my obligation to the organization.''
When Milloy agreed to a three-year, $6 million contract in March 2006, he and the Falcons thought the team was one game-changing defender, John Abraham, from competing for a Super Bowl title.
Abraham signed five days after Milloy, but the star right end reinjured his groin after dominating Carolina in Week 1 and didn't regain full strength until last winter.
Rod Coleman, a powerful defensive tackle, underwent surgery to repair a ruptured quadriceps in April. When healthy, Coleman and Abraham have combined for 114 sacks since the start of 2000, but Coleman might not return until October.
New left end Jamaal Anderson, who took the starting job after Patrick Kerney left as a free agent, is a rookie. Though Anderson has the potential expected of a top-10 draft pick, his learning curve, combined with Coleman's absence, could give opponents an easy way to nullify Abraham with double teams.
``We have a big challenge facing us this year, but nobody is shying away from it,'' Milloy said. ``Abe is completely healthy, my body feels great, and we'll hold it together until Rod comes back.''
Uncertainty on the line means the secondary can't give receivers too much space. DeAngelo Hall is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks and can shadow any team's No. 1 receiver, but third-round pick Chris Houston might need longer to beat out Lewis Sanders for the starting job at right cornerback.
First-year coordinator Mike Zimmer still hasn't settled on a starting free safety. Chris Crocker struggled badly on deep routes last year, and converted cornerback Jimmy Williams has yet to show the burst of speed necessary.
That's why Zimmer looks at Milloy as the no-nonsense leader the Falcons must have who can respond to a formation quickly and reposition teammates just before the snap.
From 1994-98, in Zimmer's first five seasons with Dallas, safety Darren Woodson filled that role for the Cowboys, doing it well enough to earn All-Pro honors three straight years and five consecutive Pro Bowl bids.
``He's just like him,'' Zimmer said. ``Lawyer's a tough guy, an older guy who makes younger players listen when he talks. I'm extremely impressed with what I've seen.''
More than anything else, Milloy wants to return to the playoffs. The former University of Washington standout helped New England advance to the postseason in four of his first six years, and the Patriots won their first Super Bowl to conclude the 2001 season.
Since holding out for a bigger contract in 2003, which resulted in a trade to Buffalo, Milloy has been on just one team that finished with a winning record. That squad, the '04 Bills, missed the playoffs.
Last year was a big disappointment after the Falcons started 5-2. They finished 7-9, and owner Arthur Blank fired Jim Mora as coach.
After a promising offseason, Coleman was injured as he drove a personal watercraft. A bigger problem developed when Vick went under federal indictment three weeks ago for allegedly funding a major dogfighting operation in Virginia.
``It's tough losing your head coach and your star player, but you can't predict everything that's going to happen,'' Milloy said. ``What's important in the big picture is that other people's problems aren't a true reflection of the whole team. I see myself as being part of the solution, and that's what really matters out here on the field.''
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