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Lofa Tatupu eyes starting spot with Falcons

After a year out of football, a physically and mentally refreshed Lofa Tatupu is prepared to fight 2011 third-round pick Akeem Dent for the Atlanta Falcons' starting middle linebacker job.

A three-time Pro Bowler with the Seattle Seahawks, Tatupu had 549 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, 35 passes defensed and forced seven fumbles in his 84-game career in the Pacific Northwest. Tatupu was released last summer after refusing to accommodate the Seahawks' request to reduce his $4.35 million base salary.

The Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins expressed interest in Tatupu, but he spent the season out of football.

"It wasn’t my choice," Tatupu said of his season as a spectator, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think that's kind of what happened to veterans across the league. ... But it wasn't anything to do with concussions or lingering injuries. I was ready to play last season. I got released, like a lot of people did, and I just didn't catch on with anybody."

Tatupu worked out for the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans before the Falcons signed him to a two-year, $3.6 million contract that is light on guarantees ($600,000), but includes up to $1.25 million playing-time escalators for 2013, as insurance in case Curtis Lofton departed via free agency. Lofton, the Falcons' leader in tackles the last three seasons, signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.

Tatupu is not as athletic as Lofton or Dent, but is an instinctual player who is very good in pass coverage. In that department, he'll be an upgrade over Lofton and could play in nickel situations if Dent beats him out for the starting job.

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