Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had a rare agreement with the team to miss most of training camp in order to help entice him out of retirement, is working to get up to speed after missing three weeks of training camp.
He completed the first two days of practice on July 25 and 26th and then did not return until Aug. 18.
The Falcons didn't waste any time getting Gonzalez back involved in the offense in the third exhibition game.
On the second play of the game, quarterback Matt Ryan threw a pass to Gonzalez for a 7-yard gain.
"I felt good," Gonzalez said. "I felt fine. There is room for improvement, there always is."
Gonzalez will continue to work on his conditioning.
"I'm improving my wind," Gonzalez said. "I wasn't winded, but I can get better. I can explode (better) off the line of scrimmage. I like where I'm at, at this point after missing all of that time."
Gonzalez was happy that Ryan called his number so early in the game.
"I've been happy with my progress since I've been back," Gonzalez said. "I can take a little p ride knowing that I wanted to do that. I took care of myself for those weeks that I wasn't here. I was preparing myself for when I got back here.
Gonzalez finished with two catches for 21 yards. He was only targeted two times.
"I tried to hit the ground running," he said. "I didn't want to let my teammate down, nor myself down."
The Falcons have not played their starters in the final exhibition game under head coach Mike Smith.
"No," Gonzalez said when asked he wanted to play in that game against Jacksonville on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
But given how the team performed in its dress rehearsal, Smith is going to be tempted to play some of the starters. Certainly, the starting offensive line could use some more work. Given all of the time that Gonzalez has missed, he likely could use the additional work also.
"We never play in the fourth game," Gonzalez said. "But if the other guys go, then yeah I'll go out there. Its football and I have fun when I'm out there. But I haven't done it traditionally."
The Falcons have been picked by many prognosticators to win the NFC South and be a Super Bowl contender. They have not shown many flashes of brilliance during the exhibition season.
"We've got to play better," Gonzalez said. "There is no doubt about it. It's just a preseason game. It is that dress rehearsal, but we have got to play better."
He figures the offensive line will address its issues and the receivers will not drop so many passes.
"We see some weaknesses that we've had," Gonzalez said. "We'll work on them and get them right. We've got to. We've got no choice.
"I know these guys take a lot of pride in what they do from the offensive line to Matt throwing the ball to the receivers and myself catching the ball. It's the little things that we can correct."
--After practice Monday Falcons coach Mike Smith tried to put in context the six sacks allowed against the Titans during Saturday's exhibition game.
Smith said it's not always obvious which offensive lineman is to blame when the protection breaks down. He said during the regular season any potential problems with protection would be accounted for when game plans are developed.
Still, no matter the circumstances, there's a bottom line to what happened against the Titans.
"We can't have our quarterback get hit that many times," Smith said. "We've got to get better."
Much of the outside scrutiny was directed at Lamar Holmes, who has started at right tackle since Mike Johnson suffered a season-ending injury early in camp. According to Pro Football Focus, Holmes was responsible for two of the sacks and three other quarterback pressures against Matt Ryan in 24 pass plays.
"We gave up way too many sacks and often times people want to pinpoint it on one person," Smith said. "That's not always the case. It's a unit and the unit didn't play very well."
Holmes practiced with the starters on Monday with Ryan Schraeder occasionally filling in, which has been the typical pattern.
Pro Football Focus assigned left guard Justin Blalock responsibility for two sacks and two hurries, center Peter Konz responsibility for one sack and one hurry and left tackle Sam Baker responsibility for two quarterback hits and one hurry.
The Titans used more defensive line stunts than is typical for an exhibition game, which contributed to the protection issues for the offensive line.
"You look at the tape, it's a half a step here and there, recognizing (the stunts) and bumping back just a hair faster," right guard Garrett Reynolds said.
Reynolds, Konz, and Holmes are playing larger roles for the Falcons this season because of the retirement of center Todd McClure, the teams decision to release Tyson Clabo and Johnson's injury.
"For the most part (the chemistry) is developed," Holmes said. "It's getting better. Week by week and day by day we are starting to communicate and talk more."
--The Falcons have used rookie Joplo Bartu as one of the linebackers in their nickel package for much of the preseason. Against the Titans they used him as the lone linebacker in the dime package and Smith said the results were good.
"I thought he handled it pretty well," Smith said. "He had a nice forced fumble on the quarterback scramble. He did some things in coverage that we liked."
The Falcons are looking for better pass coverage from their linebackers after Nicholas struggled defending tight ends last season.
--Fullback Bradie Ewing played about 15 snaps in his first game since suffering a knee injury during the 2012 exhibition opener. Ewing returned to practice last week after missing three weeks with an undisclosed ailment that he said isn't related to the previous knee injury.
"He did a nice job in his first action coming back," Smith said.
Ewing is expected to start at fullback and also be a key contributor on special teams.
--The Falcons on Monday released rookie wide receivers Rashad Evans, Marcus Jackson and Marcus Sales. All three players were signed as college free agents.
The moves got Atlanta's roster down to the limit of 75 in advance of Tuesday's NFL deadline. Teams must trim rosters down to the regular-season limit of 53 players by Saturday. They can sign players to the eight-man practice squad beginning Sept. 1.
On Sunday, they released tight end Tim Biere, fullback Devonte Campbell, linebacker Nick Clancy, tight end Colin Cloherty, quarterback Seth Doege, defensive end Cam Henderson, tackle Jeff Nady, running back Donald Russell, safety Troy Sanders, center Matt Smith and defensive end Brandon Thurmond.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"When we go down to 53, those are some very difficult decisions. There are a lot of young men who have worked their tails off for us since April that are not going to be on our team. ... it's always a tough time." -- Falcons coach Mike Smith
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The Falcons appear ready to go into the regular season with Lamar Holmes as their starting right tackle.
He has been able to beat out Ryan Schraeder, an undrafted rookie from Valdosta State. However, if Holmes continues to get beat, the Falcons may be faced with playing Schraeder, a undrafted rookie who has shown some nimble footwork.
BIGGEST QUESTION TO BE ANSWERED: Can rookie cornerback Robert Alford, who took over for Asante Samuel at left cornerback, recover for a poor performance against Tennessee in time to help in pass coverage early in the season?
Alford was beaten for three touchdowns passes, was called for an illegal-contact penalty that wasn't accepted and was beaten by Titans receiver Michael Preston for a 56-yard gain in the third quarter.
Alford nearly came up with an interception late in the second quarter and did get one in the third quarter. He talked after the game and was determined to study film to improve.
--CB Asante Samuel didn't practice Monday after leaving the Titans game with what the team reported as a thigh injury. But Smith said he anticipates Samuel will be ready to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
--PK Matt Bryant, who sat out Saturday with a sore back, did not kick during practice Monday. Smith said Bryant also would be ready for the season opener.
--WR Roddy White (ankle) has been out since leaving the second exhibition game. He did not practice on Monday, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.
--LB Stephen Nicholas (leg) was injured during practice last week. He did not practice on Monday, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.
--DT Peria Jerry, who left the game Saturday with what the team said was a jaw injury, practiced Monday.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FB Mike Cox (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Mike Peterson (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--CB Desmond Trufant (1/22); $8,166,096/4 yrs, $4,318,980 SB/$6,647,538 guaranteed/$600,000 RB 5th day 2016 league year.
--CB Robert Alford (2/60): $3,401,398/4 yrs, $853,744 SB/$1,077,744 guaranteed.
--DE Malliciah Goodman (4/127): $2,557,088/4 yrs, $397,088 SB.
--TE Levine Toilolo (4/133): $2,460,584/4 yrs, $300,584 SB.
--DE Stansly Maponga (5/153): $2,346,740/4 yrs, $186,740 SB.
--S Kemal Ishmael (7/243): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
--S Zeke Motta (7/244): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
--QB Sean Renfree (7/249): $2,205,896/4 yrs, $45,896 SB.
--T Sam Baker: UFA; $41.5M/6 yrs, $18.25M guaranteed.
--TE Tony Gonzalez: UFA; $14M/2 yrs, $3.5M SB.
--S William Moore: Potential UFA; $29.512M/5 yrs, $8.25M SB/$14M guaranteed.
--G Garrett Reynolds: Potential UFA; $2.58M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB/$700,000 guaranteed.
--RB Antone Smith: Potential RFA; $1.425M/2 yrs, $65,000 SB.
--FB Patrick DiMarco: FA Chiefs; terms unknown.
--RB Steven Jackson: UFA Rams; $12M/3 yrs, $3.5M SB/$4M guaranteed.
--DE Osi Umenyiora: UFA Giants; $8.5M/3 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M guaranteed.
--DE John Abraham (released).
--T Tyson Clabo (released/post-June 1 designation).
--CB Brent Grimes: UFA Dolphins; $5M/1 yr, $2.25M SB/$3M guaranteed.
--S Chris Hope: Not tendered as UFA/Lions; terms unknown.
--C Todd McClure (UFA; retired).
--QB Luke McCown: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Kerry Meier (released).
--CB Christopher Owens: UFA Browns; $1M/1 yr.
--TE Michael Palmer: Not tendered as RFA/Giants; terms unknown.
--CB Dunta Robinson (released.
--DE Lawrence Sidbury: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Michael Turner (released/failed physical).
--DT Vance Walker: UFA Raiders; $1.3M/1 yr.
"what if there were no hypothetical situations?"