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50 Days until the First Regular Season Saints Game

The New Orleans Saints begin their regular season in fifty days, when they take on NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons in Georgia.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

It's almost that time!

After last season's playoffs...
free agency...
this year's draft...
Jimmy Graham's contract dispute...
and whatever else has filled the void left at the end of each NFL football season...

here we are, less than three weeks from our first preseason game, and fifty days from the start of the New Orleans Saints 2014 regular season!

A number of veteran players -- some well-loved by the Who Dat Nation -- are no longer with the Saints.

Some have been lost to other teams, including:
RB Darren Sproles (Philadelphia Eagles),
S Malcolm Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles),
LB Will Smith (New England Patriots),
OT Charles Brown (New York Giants),
C Brian de la Puente (Chicago Bears, Week 15),
WR Lance Moore (Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 13),
S Roman Harper (Carolina Panthers, Weeks 9&14),
FB Jed Collins (Detroit Lions, Week 7),
DT Tom Johnson (Minnesota Vikings, Week 3).

Others have either announced their retirement or have yet to sign with a new team, including:
LB Jonathan Vilma,
CB Jabari Greer,
DE Kenyon Coleman,
LB Will Herring,
S Jordan Pugh.

Players have been added to the roster, as well.

Some were acquired from other teams through Free Agency:
S Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills),
CB Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos),
C Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers),
FB Erik Lorig (Tampa Bay Buccaneers),
S Marcus Ball (Toronto Argonauts, CFL).

Others were acquired through the draft:
WR Brandin Cooks (Oregon St.),
DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska),
ILB Khairi Fortt (California),
SS Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama),
OLB Ronald Powell (Florida),
OT Tavon Rooks (Kansas).

And as usual, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis got busy signing a number of UDFA (undrafted free agent) rookies after the draft.

Now, so close to seeing our boys take the field once again, yet still so far from "games that matter," we begin our countdown to the regular season.  How spectacular that the season begins with a chance to continue the trend of owning the Atlanta Falcons in their own home.  And how appropriate that our countdown begins with Curtis Lofton, the former Falcon who joined the New Orleans Saints in 2012, and became the signal caller for Rob Ryan's spectacular defensive turnaround.

#50:  ILB Curtis Lofton

Having turned just 28 in June, Curtis Lofton has become a leader for the Saints defense, leading the team in playing over 95% of all defensive snaps in 2013.  Although he and David Hawthorne combined to miss 28 tackles last season, Lofton garnered 82 solo tackles and 43 assists, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 5 pass defenses.  And his numbers the previous year were about the same, without the benefit of Rob Ryan's defensive scheme.

The Saints defensive coordinator trusts Lofton's defensive mind enough to give him the power to audible over whatever plays Ryan sends in.  And the linebacker keeps himself in top physical shape, having played all sixteen games in each of the six seasons since he was drafted out of Oklahoma in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.  A powerful figure on the New Orleans Saints defense, Curtis Lofton should continue to be a key figure in Rob Ryan's scheme throughout the 2014 season.