Camp Battles 2012: Tight Ends
The tight end position should feature some heavy competition throughout training camp for the Falcons, as the team looks to expand its depth behind long-time starter Tony Gonzalez.
The team made the decision to bring Gonzalez back for one more year last January, a smart decision considering his future Hall of Fame status. But one of the weaknesses of the Falcons position is that they do not have great depth behind Gonzalez. His heir apparent as the team’s future starter is currently not viewed to be on the roster. And part of the competition in camp will be to show if any viable long-term options emerge.
The most likely candidate will be Michael Palmer, who will get the first training camp of his career where he is largely untested for his roster position. Palmer will be a focus of this year’s camp. How well he performs as Gonzalez’s primary backup could determine how much trust this team has in their depth at the position. While Palmer isn’t currently viewed as a potential replacement for Gonzalez due to the sharp drop-off in receiving abilities, a strong summer could force the Falcons to reconsider their long-term prospects of Palmer’s future. He is seen mostly as a blocker and has been used that way each of the past two seasons, but that could change if he can have a strong summer as a receiver particularly if he gets more work with the first team units than in previous summers.
The brunt of the competition will come behind Palmer where the Falcons have multiple candidates competing for what will likely be the third and final spot on the depth chart. Tommy Gallarda, a second-year player, is the most experienced of the group having spent the majority of last year on the Falcons practice squad. The fact that he spent time in Jacksonville’s training camp last summer where Dirk Koetter got a good look at him should give him a leg up from the others in terms of making the roster. Gallarda is a blocker first, which is likely the role the Falcons envision for the third guy on the depth chart.
But he will face competition from undrafted rookies LaMark Brown, Adam Nissley, and Aron White. Brown is a converted former running back and receiver that has good athleticism and speed. But he’s undersized for a tight end at 228 pounds, and will have to showcase his receiving potential as an H-back. Nissley excelled at blocking at Central Florida and with his size he could push for a role there. White is an athletic tight end that worked primarily as a blocker for Georgia, but that was in part because of the other talent they had at the position. All three players have solid chance to make the practice squad and potentially the roster.
Even if any of the untested players make the roster the Falcons might minimize their playing time, instead opting to use a third tackle on gamedays to function as the extra blocker in jumbo packages. This is what the Falcons often did in 2010 when Palmer was a rookie, utilizing Will Svitek in that role. It’s also possible that when cuts begin in late August, the team will begin to scour the waiver wire for a more proven veteran, similarly to what they did a year ago by picking up Reggie Kelly during camp. The team already worked out veteran Daniel Graham in June, indicating that they understand there are some question marks at the position. Depending on how things play out in camp and the preseason will determine if those questions are answered down the line.