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With Hartwell in, Falcons release LB Draft

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (April 1, 2005) -- The Atlanta Falcons released linebacker Chris Draft, another in a series of moves to change the face of their defense.

Since signing Edgerton Hartwell to a six-year contract on March 21, Falcons general manager Rich McKay sought to trade Draft, but he found no takers.

Draft started 31 of 33 games over the last two seasons. Under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, Draft played a diminished role for a unit that improved from last to 14th in the NFL, and led the league in sacks for the first time in franchise history.

The Falcons, who won the NFC South with an 11-5 record and advanced to the conference title game in their first season under head coach Jim Mora, released two starters -- nose tackle Ed Jasper and free safety Cory Hall -- on Feb. 28.

Four-time Pro Bowl selection Keith Brooking is the only returning starter at linebacker. Brooking plays the weak side. Hartwell, a starter the last three years in Baltimore alongside Ray Lewis, takes over at middle linebacker.

Demorrio Williams and Ike Reese are the two candidates to start on the strong side and replace Matt Stewart, who signed with Cleveland last month. Williams emerged as an excellent nickel linebacker as a rookie last year. Reese, who played his first seven years in Philadelphia, made the Pro Bowl on special teams, but the Falcons promised him a chance to compete for a starting job on defense.

Atlanta's defense will have new starters at both safety positions next season. Bryan Scott, who underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery two weeks ago and could remain on the sidelines until the start of training camp, moves from strong safety to free safety.

Head coach Jim Mora lists Ronnie Heard as the starting strong safety, but McKay indicated the club may use a third- or fourth-round pick to fortify the position.

Keion Carpenter, who missed all of last season with a torn knee ligament, re-signed earlier this week and will back up Scott at free safety.

Draft's best season with Atlanta came in 2002, when he had 3½ sacks, two interceptions, two passes defensed and started six of 15 games. A former standout at Stanford, Draft played with Chicago in 1998 and San Francisco the following season.

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