FLOWERY BRANCH — Lawyer Milloy has enough problems of his own without trying to antagonize Steve Smith.
A 13-year safety in his third season with Atlanta, Milloy wants to keep a low profile as the Falcons (2-1) prepare to visit the Carolina Panthers (2-1).
Though Milloy faces a DUI charge that was filed earlier this month in nearby Gwinnett County, the proud NFL veteran still considers himself the leader of the secondary.
If you want Milloy to comment on why former teammate DeAngelo Hall was so obsessed about his personal feud with Smith, well, forget it.
“It’s not a DeAngelo issue,” Milloy said Thursday. “He’s not a part of this team. I respect him as a player. That’s it.”
The Falcons likely would have beaten Carolina in their first meeting last year if Hall had kept his temper in check.
Unfortunately, Hall’s antics with Smith resulted in three penalties totaling 67 yards on a third-quarter possession that ended with a Panthers touchdown and wiped out Atlanta’s 17-10 lead.
Hall, whom Atlanta traded to Oakland six months ago, was fined $100,000 after the game for his sideline outburst with former coach Bobby Petrino.
Milloy sees no sense in discussing Hall’s bad relations with Smith, particularly as the three-time Pro Bowl receiver prepares for his first home game. Smith was suspended without pay the last two weeks after sucker punching his teammate, cornerback Ken Lucas, in training camp.
Expect Milloy to keep the Atlanta secondary focused only the task of covering a 5-foot-9 receiver he calls “one of the most dynamic and one of the most explosive players in our league.”
Since the start of 2005, Smith ranks fifth in the NFL with 3,731 yards receiving, sixth with 273 receptions and seventh with 27 touchdown catches. He caught four passes for 70 yards in last week’s 20-10 loss at Minnesota.
“He’s one of the players who plays bigger than his stature,” Milloy said. “He’s a big-time player.”
The job of covering Smith falls largely on left cornerback Brent Grimes, who had his first NFL interception in his fourth career start in last week’s win over Kansas City. Right cornerback Chris Houston, who’s coming off his first career pick and TD, will draw more man-to-man matchups with 13th-year veteran Muhsin Muhammad.
As a rookie last season, Houston was never asked to cover Smith individually. That was the job of Hall, who kept his composure when Atlanta won the second matchup in Charlotte, knocking the ball out of Smith’s hands to save a touchdown.
“We play great wide receivers week in and week out,” Houston said. “(Joey) Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Dwayne Bowe, Calvin Johnson, Roy Williams — they’re all explosive players, but (Smith is) one of those guys who can score at any point in the game. We’ve just got to know where he’s at and do a great job.”
Depending on how well they fare against Carolina’s rushing attack, the Falcons also might use plenty of zone coverage, but much of their success against the pass this year has begun with pressure up front from NFL sacks leader (six) John Abraham and blitzes from linebacker Keith Brooking.
Milloy, who has a team-high 27 tackles, just wants his teammates to stay focused on the defensive calls made by coordinator Brian VanGorder and the attendant responsibilities.
The departure of Hall, who made two Pro Bowl squads with Atlanta, is likely to help the Falcons avoid spending unnecessary energy against Smith.
“In 13 years, I’ve lined up with a whole lot of different personalities in the league, and as the leader of my particular group (secondary), you have to study each individual’s personality and understand what makes him grow in a positive way and what makes him grow in a negative way,” Milloy said. “I never babysit or entertain anybody. The way I try to get the positive out of everybody is by doing what I do first. That’s the message I try to get across.”
Notes: Left tackle Sam Baker missed his second straight practice with the flu. Baker underwent concussion tests after being forced to leave each of the last two games. “It’s not a feeling of well-being,” Baker said. “You always want to play, but it’s just a matter of doing what the doctors say.” Todd Weiner is likely to start in Baker’s place. ... Receiver Laurent Robinson is still wearing a brace on his left knee and probably will be inactive this week. “Harry (Douglas) and (Brian) Finneran have been in the rotation in the first three games,” coach Mike Smith said. “This will just increase their snaps. We have played five of the six receivers. Adam (Jennings) is going to have to be ready to go as well this week.”