Nicholas Trying to Make His Mark

Linebacker Stephen Nicholas is not assuming that he'll replace Michael Boley as the Falcons' starting strong-side linebacker. Nicholas is running with the first unit.

He was there in minicamp in May. He is there during Organized Training Activities (OTAs). He will be there for the start of training camp on Aug. 1. With the loss of linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley in the offseason, Nicholas has stepped in along with free-agent Mike Peterson and second-year player Curtis Lofton on the starting unit.

"He's running with the (starters) right now, but everything we do here is competition, so we'll see how it sorts itself out," Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.

Nicholas isn't taking anything for granted. "I always look at it as I have to compete," Nicholas said. "That's what I do. I'm up to start, but my goal is to go out and always compete."

Nicholas was drafted in the fourth round in 2007 out of South Florida. He has never started a regular-season game in the NFL, although he has played in 29 games in two seasons.

"It's more about learning the game," Nicholas said. "Everybody is talented in this league. You have to learn the game and work hard every day." Meanwhile, the Falcons are hoping to increase the number of impact plays from their new-look linebacker unit.

One area of concern last season was the sack production from the linebackers. The Falcons had 34 sacks last season, but just two -- one by Nicholas and one by Curtis Lofton -- by a linebacker.

"It's something we definitely want to improve this year," Nicholas said. "Curtis Lofton and Michael Peterson, it's something for us all to improve. That was the downfall from last year, and we definitely want to pick that up."

Tackles, specifically tackles for loss, were a trademark of Nicholas at South Florida, where he was named to the All-Big East team in 2006. He finished his collegiate career with 320 tackles, second on the school's all-time list. He owns the school record with 50.5 tackles for loss. "I heard (talk of a professional career) a couple of times in high school and then a couple of times in college," said Nicholas, one of eight children. "I knew I had to have the mind frame of just to keep working, and if it happens, it happens. It happened."

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