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Secondary preparing for athletic Lions receivers
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Listen to news out of Detroit this week and you'll hear of a team committed to establishing a running game. But in Atlanta, fans are hearing more about a wide receiver's homecoming.
Lions wideout Calvin Johnson returns to his home state this weekend as the Falcons open the season. Johnson played college ball down the street from the Georgia Dome at Georgia Tech and is one of the most athletic receivers in the league. His teammate, wide receiver Roy Williams, could be a close second.
The duo combined for 1,594 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season. Both are tall, strong receivers that like to out-muscle their opponents.
So, while the running game is definitely on the minds of the Falcons defense, stopping Johnson and Williams is the paramount concern for defensive backs like Chris Houston and Brent Grimes.
"They are definitely two good receivers," Grimes said. "Everyone knows what they can do. I'm just going out there to play the game plan, try to make some plays and have some fun out there."
Houston will enter his second year as a starter Sunday. He made his way to the NFL with speed and instincts but will have to lean heavily on the physical element of his game against the Lions.
"You want to try to get hands on them and disrupt them the whole game," Houston said. "We just want to be aggressive. That's the whole mentality. With the big guys you don't want to give them free releases."
Grimes, who is regarded as one of the more athletic players on the team, got his hands on several passes in the preseason. He didn't come down with an interception but did break up two passes in the end zone.
Though his quickness can come in handy, Grimes is careful not to lean too much on his physical gifts.
It will take a little bit of everything to stop the Lions through the air.
"Athleticism can only take you so far," Grimes said. "You have to work on your techniques and know what you're supposed to be doing and work the game plan. You can't rely on athleticism all the time."
Newly-acquired cornerback Domonique Foxworth said his new teammates made him feel welcome from the moment he arrived at Falcons headquarters.
"I'm excited. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to play and I think the most important thing is to gain the respect of my teammates as soon as possible," said Foxworth, a four-year veteran that was traded from Denver to Atlanta on Tuesday. "I feel really comfortable around here. The guys have accepted me which is nice and I'm getting to know the coaches."

Foxworth, 5-11, 180 pounds, was a third round selection by the Broncos in the 2005 NFL Draft. In 48 career games, he has totaled 166 tackles (138 solo), three interceptions, 34 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Foxworth was actively involved in the community in Denver and was recognized as the Broncos' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner in 2007.
The Broncos told him a trade was in the works Monday morning. By 6 a.m. Tuesday he was on a flight to Atlanta. A trade was then made official and Foxworth was given a new play book.
"I definitely think I'll fit in," he said. "I'm a versatile player; I've played a lot of different positions. We've run a couple systems in Denver. The sooner I learn it the better off I'll be."
Foxworth will wear No. 24 with the Falcons.
Rookie linebacker Curtis Lofton is expected to get the start Sunday at middle linebacker. He was in the starting lineup for the last two preseason games but he's not getting overly confident about the regular season.
Instead, he's taking the bookworm approach.
"It's kind of crazy but I'm just taking it one day at a time and getting in as much extra film as possible and preparing for the opponent," he said. "I just have to be ready for all the adjustments and calls. I'm getting ready to make calls and be a leader out there." credits Lofton with a team-high 17 solo tackles during the preseason. He also recorded one forced fumble, a sack and a fumble recovery.
"I tell him to stay focus and don't let anything get him out of his comfort zone," linebacker Michael Boley said when asked about Lofton's starting role. "I think he's going to do all right. I think he's a good listener. He doesn't really get a big head about too much."
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan got his first "professional" start out of the way two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans. Now he's zeroing in on his first regular season game.
"Everybody's excited for our opener this weekend," he said. "I think we put in a lot of hard work over the course of the off-season. Now we're ready to tee it up and get ready to go."
Ryan led the Falcons with 294 passing yards and two touchdowns in the preseason. It was a good start and he plans on building on success but he's also prepared to face the inevitable valleys through the season.
"There's going to be some series where you play well and there's going to be some series that you don't," he said Wednesday. "You can't get too high or too low during the ride throughout the season. You have to stay even keeled and keep grinding. That's what I've tried to do through every level I've played at and I don't think that's going to change in the NFL."

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