Tony Gonzalez is set to return today to practice as the Falcons break training camp. Gonzalez left camp on July 27 to spend time with his family in California. Gonzalez was expected to retire after last season but agreed to come back. Part of that agreement was to allow him time to his family, particularly his 12-year old son Nikko. During Gonzalez’s three-week absence, he was in constant communication with the team and his position coach, Chris Scelfo. Gonzalez is expected to suit up for the Falcons upcoming preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans next Saturday.
Wednesday served as a pre-game walkthrough day for the Falcons in preparation for tomorrow night’s preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Tony Gonzalez’s return to Atlanta is not expected until around August 17 per John Manasso of FOX Sports. It has been previously noted that Gonzalez is expected to return for the third and fourth preseason games, the former of which will be played against the Tennessee Titans on August 24 in Nashville. That third preseason game is typically the one where NFL teams suit up their starters and play them into the third quarter, meaning it makes sense to have Gonzalez back in time for that. The return date of August 17 indicates that Gonzalez will likely use the week prior to knock off any rust that has accumulated since departing camp on July 27. In Gonzalez’s absence, most reports indicate that Chase Coffman and Levine Toilolo have made the most of their opportunities with the starters.
- Mike Smith talked about many of the things he’ll look for in the upcoming preseason game, including the situation at right tackle. Another interesting note is that Smith indicated that he expects Jacquizz Rodgers to handle the team’s kickoff return duties during the regular season, although other players will get opportunities throughout the preseason. With Rodgers relatively secure on kickoffs, it would seem that the bulk of the competition will come for punt return duties. Throughout camp, players like Robert Alford, Dominique Franks, Jason Snelling, James Rodgers, Harry Douglas, and Rashad Evans have reportedly gotten work there. Previous reports indicate that Douglas is only likely going to be a last resort.
- Thomas DeCoud gives some personal insight into some of his teammates in the secondary.
- Daniel Cox has his five notes from Day 12 of camp, including discussion of the increased workload that Dominique Davis saw on Wednesday and will likely see throughout the preseason, the expectation that Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder will likely split reps at right tackle on Thursday, and Matt Ryan’s focus for the preseason and the rest of the year.
- The Falcons haven’t quite ruled out Mike Johnson for the remainder of the year per Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com.
Head coach Mike Smith stopped short of calling Mike Johnson's injury "season-ending" today but said he'd know more after surgery. #CINvsATL
— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) August 7, 2013
As noted earlier, the Falcons could seek to place Johnson on injured reserve but designated for return, sometimes referred to as the “short-term IR.” That would mean he would miss the first six weeks of the regular season and then be eligible to return to practice and subsequently the active roster after eight weeks. The short-term IR is only allowed for one player and must be determined by September 3 in the case of Johnson. The Falcons could opt to keep Johnson on the active roster between now and then, but they would lose one of their 90-man roster spots in camp. However they could potentially place him on the “normal” IR (gaining a roster spot) and then reactivate him for the September 3 deadline so that he can be then designated for return. The third option would to be of course to place him on normal long-term injured reserve with the expectation that he’ll miss the entire season. None of which, as Adams and Smith indicated, will not be known until following his surgery, scheduled for next week.
Recapping once more what media outlets were discussing from the third day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:
- John Manasso shed a bit more light on the expected absence of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who departed camp today. He’ll be expected back to participate in the final two preseason games (on August 24 and 29 vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville respectively). When he returns prior to that point still remains unknown.
- Desmond Trufant’s confidence is up. Confidence is a necessary trait for quality corners. Goes along with a short memory, something Trufant is going to have going up against these Falcon receivers.
- Martel Moore has earned praise from several outlets for his work during the first two days of camp. The latest being from Manasso and Jay Adams.
- Osi Umenyiora is getting reps as a stand-up pass rusher, although he’s not sure how much he’ll be asked to do that on Sundays. Well if he was to ask John Abraham, the answer would be “a lot.”
- Looks like a foursome might be emerging that is vying for the punt returner spot. To no surprise, Harry Douglas, Dominique Franks, Robert Alford, and James Rodgers got reps today. Douglas and Franks worked on the unit last season. Alford returned punts while at SE Louisiana. Rodgers split reps with his brother Jacquizz last summer on kickoff returns, but also got reps on punts during his collegiate career at Oregon State.
- And as usual, Daniel Cox recounts five observations from the third day of camp, an obligatory read.
The third-ranked Falcon player is none other than tight end Tony Gonzalez. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.
Total Score: 90
Player Grade: 82 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 30 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 30 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3
Gonzalez had an uncannily good 2012 season. At age 36, he managed to put together the best season he’s had since joining the Falcons in 2009.
Gonzalez has always shined on third downs and in the redzone. His size, athleticism, hands, and ability to get position against defenders makes him virtually impossible to cover in these “money” situations. He’s ostensibly the NFL’s equivalent of a power forward, who goes down to the low block and posts up defenders.
The big question about Gonzalez going into 2013 is whether or not he can have a repeat of what he did in 2012. He’s well past his peak seasons, as only he and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe were able to be productive tight ends up to age 35. For most other tight ends, even very good receiving ones, they don’t really make it past age 32. It’s why conventional wisdom suggests that Gonzalez could see a dip in his production due to the belief that at some point his age will catch up to him.
But he should still manage to defy the odds in 2013. Considering that it will be his final season, he’ll be highly motivated to succeed in order to help the Falcons win a title. He also should get plenty of opportunities with Roddy White and Julio Jones lining up on the outside of him to draw coverages away from him. And no one takes care of their body better than he does. It all means that Gonzalez could be in store to even top his production from a year ago and become the first Falcon tight end to ever top 1,000 yards in a season. If he manages to get 1,031 yards this year, he’ll become the team’s all-time receiving yards leader at the position, doing in five seasons what it took Jim Mitchell more than a decade to do in the 70s.
Matt Ryan got paid, and deservedly so. While he may not have the accomplishments that put him on par with the other most highly-paid quarterbacks in the league, it certainly doesn’t make him any less deserving of being in that peer group.
And by accomplishments, we’re talking about playoff wins and Super Bowls.
Now that Ryan is being paid handsomely for his services with the Falcons, more scrutiny is going to come towards him even if he doesn’t feel it. Rightly or wrongly, quarterbacks are largely judged by how many playoff wins and Super Bowl rings they have.
I personally believe those things often get overrated when assessing individual quarterbacks. Postseason success is largely billed as reflective of quarterbacks, but it is in fact reflective of the entire team that he plays on. Teams win games, not necessarily quarterbacks. While quarterbacks are the most important aspect of a team, football is not like basketball where you can be a championship contender by having one transcendent player. Just look at Drew Brees in New Orleans, who by the way had zero playoff wins in his first five seasons (one less than Ryan). Brees has helmed the Saints for seven seasons, and three of those seasons the Saints did not finish with a record above .500. Their lack of success in those seasons was largely because of their poor defensive play which ranked among the ten worst teams in the league in all three seasons. Brees will ultimately be enshrined in Canton for his tenure with the Saints, but it’s clear that even a quarterback of his caliber can’t do it all on his own.
And that’s the point I’m getting to with Ryan. While the Falcons have rewarded Ryan with a resplendent contract, they need to get him more help if they hope that he ultimately will have greater postseason success moving forward.
Here’s the buzz and news that emerged on the second day of Falcons camp. Once again, hat tip to the AJC for providing a transcript of some of the post-practice interviews.
- The Falcons added Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales to the roster. Sales tried out with the Falcons following the draft, but went unsigned as an undrafted free agent. Sales finished his career at Syracuse strong, with career highs of 64 catches, 882 yards (13.8 avg), and 8 touchdowns.
- The Falcons also named another addition to their training camp roster.
- Brian Banks clearly appreciated the magnitude of the moment and situation he has earned for himself during his first practice with the team on Thursday.
- Knox Bardeen indicated that rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford looked a little green during their first day. It seems their struggles continued on Day 2, as they continue to take their lumps against one of the NFL’s premier receiving duos in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Desmond Trufant continues to be burned in one-on-one drills deep. #Falcons
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) July 26, 2013
Young corners Trufant and Alford have struggled through their first two practices. No real cause for alarm. The are adjusting to the speed.
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) July 26, 2013
Robert Alford was Julio's latest victim. And then Roddy burned him next play. Tough to face those 2 as a rookie #Falcons
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) July 26, 2013
- Daniel Cox of Atlanta Falcons.com gives five excellent observations from the second day of camp, including Steven Jackson’s usage in the passing game, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone’s progress at wide receiver in their third seasons with the team, Trufant and Alford’s abilities to have short memories when it comes to getting beat in coverage, Kroy Biermann’s continued usage as a “joker” in Mike Nolan’s defense, and Chase Coffman’s ability to benefit from Tony Gonzalez’s absence.
- Matt Ryan doesn’t mind that Gonzalez will being getting time off from camp due to the strong rapport the pair have built over the past four seasons. Ryan spent some time with Gonzalez in Southern Cali to strengthen their bonds this off-season. And Ryan likes the opportunity it presents him to get some of the other tight ends involved, echoing Cox’s sentiments about Coffman.
- Ryan also feels that Peter Konz is off to a good start in his transition to center, where he is more comfortable. Given the switch over to Konz at center, left guard Justin Blalock is taking on more of a leadership role with the offensive line as they tried to build continuity given the departure of 13-year veteran Todd McClure.
Besides the contract extension signed by quarterback Matt Ryan, here is a look at some of the top stories that developed from the first day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:
- It appears that tight end Tony Gonzalez will be given some time off in the coming days and weeks of camp. Falcons head coach Mike Smith did not specify when Gonzalez will take time off and it remains to be seen how much action Gonzalez will get in preseason games. Gonzalez had this to say (h/t to the AJC for the transcript):
Right now, I’m here. I’m planning on being here tomorrow but there are some prior obligations I made to my family, more specifically my son Nikko, last year. I made these obligations to them last year because I was planning to retire. I wasn’t joking about that all year last year. Those responsibilities are coming up and will be here pretty soon so I’ll probably head back and hang out with him and do what I told him I was going to do. Then I’ll be back and join the team early. I’m not going to be showing up a week before the game, I’ll be here a lot earlier than that, but I’ll be ready to go, too. You can bet the house on that. This isn’t something that is going to go into the regular season.
- Falcons rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga has been cleared for individual drills, but will be held out from team drills for the first few days of camp per Smith. Maponga is recently returned from off-season foot surgery that kept him out of OTAs.
The Falcons got a huge break when sixteen-year veteran Tony Gonzalez opted not to hang up the cleats for good and give it one more go in Atlanta. Gonzalez entered the 2012 season leaving the door open for a 5% chance that he might return in 2013. The Falcons will get no such sliver of hope for 2014, as he is adamant that this year will be his last in the NFL. But the Falcons hope to take full advantage of the last hurrah of Gonzo by getting him to the Super Bowl.
Gonzalez’s status could potentially earn him a pass for much of training camp, but that won’t be the case. But the Falcons probably will probably minimize how much of a workload he does this summer. That should open up opportunities for his reserves, where all of the competition will come.
The absence of Gonzalez throughout the off-season allowed the team to get a long look at Chase Coffman, who is the incumbent. Coffman is a capable receiver, but has struggled to stick in the pros due to lackluster blocking. For him to retain his spot as the top backup behind Gonzalez, will likely mean that he’ll have to show the Falcons that he is competent as a blocker. If not, then the spot will be ripe for the taking from another.
Tommy Gallarda is in a prime position to take that spot. He is considered the team’s most polished blocker, and prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last November was effective in that role. But he won’t be the only blocker that will be taking reps this summer.
The player the Falcons really want to see emerge as Gonzalez’s top backup will be rookie fourth round pick Levine Toilolo. Toilolo performed primarily as a blocker over the past two seasons at Stanford. He has excellent size and speed that the Falcons will hope to develop in the future. But first and foremost to earn reps in 2013, he’ll need to hit the ground running as a blocker. He possesses good tools and potential there, but he can be inconsistent at times and not as physical as you’d like. Coffman’s chances of making the roster increase if Toilolo proves to be a capable blocker, as the Falcons probably won’t seek to have redundant players with him and Gallarda.
Also in the mix will be Colin Cloherty, a late offseason addition. Cloherty played for Koetter in Jacksonville in 2011. Like Coffman, he’s more of a receiver than blocker, albeit a bit more undersized. He can push Coffman for the potential H-back role. Helping Cloherty is the fact that he proved to be an adept cover man on special teams during his limited opportunities. If he can shine there this summer, that may be a better avenue to making the final 53-man roster than anything he could do offensively.
Andrew Szczerba sits currently as a dark horse, but he was impressive last summer for the Dallas Cowboys. And his size, strength, and potential as a blocker does give him a legitimate opportunity to earn a roster spot. He just seems unlikely at this point to leap frog both Gallarda and Toilolo in that regard to win a spot, but stranger things have happened in Falcons training camps in the past.
A remote possibility also exists that the Falcons aren’t quite done at this position if things don’t break their way by the end of camp. Between the four of them, all of the tight ends not named Tony Gonzalez have combined for just 10 career catches in the NFL. Particularly if Toilolo has a lackluster preseason, the Falcons might explore adding veteran options at the end of summer to shore up the No. 2 spot. What limited snaps the second tight end is likely to get in 2013 will be primarily be as a blocker. And if the Falcons are unhappy with the progress of the young guys, they could seek options elsewhere.
Chase Coffman is in an interesting position heading into training camp. He has a chance to carve out a significant role on offense if he continues to have a good summer. He’s already gotten extensive reps with the first team during OTAs and minicamps due to the absences of Tony Gonzalez and Levine Toilolo, and taken advantage of it according to head coach Mike Smith. That should benefit him this summer as he seeks to carve out a roster spot.
Coffman won’t be guaranteed a roster spot, but the extra work with the starters this spring and summer should give him a significant leg up. The strength of Coffman’s game lies in his receiving ability. He has excellent hands and a very good catch radius. It was one of the reasons which prompted him to be 28th-ranked player in my 2009 draft preview and allowed him to make a key grab against the Seahawks in the playoffs.
But Coffman has struggled to find a role in the NFL because of his lacking abilities as a blocker. Coffman essentially played wide receiver during his days at Missouri, lining up in the slot and splitting out wide as a tight end. While such a player is en vogue nowadays in the NFL, Coffman simply doesn’t have the ideal speed and burst to be a guy that can really shine in that role in say the way that players like Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Aaron Hernandez, or Dennis Pitta can.
This creates issue with him separating from coverage. That was the same problem that plagued Michael Palmer when he was in Atlanta. He just wasn’t a player that could reliably beat man coverage, which is necessary to be a consistent producer at the NFL level. Because of Coffman’s excellent hands, body control, and ability to go and get the ball, that is not as big a flaw in his game as it was in Palmer’s. But again, he hasn’t shown himself capable of being the type of player that can consistently do that in order to carve out a key role on offense.
Also hurting Coffman’s potential to produce is simply the fact that he is surrounded by a ton of talent here in Atlanta, namely from the team’s top three receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. Not to mention the presence of Harry Douglas and backs like Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, on any given play Coffman is only likely to be the fifth and final option for Matt Ryan to throw to. At best that probably only allows for 1 or 2 targets to go Coffman’s way most weeks.
For the Falcons offense to take the next step offensively, they may need wide receiver Julio Jones to take his game to new heights.
Jones marveled folks, including myself, in the NFC Championship game, catching 11 passes for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. All the while playing hurt, as Jones suffered some sort of injury during the second series when he took out a security guard along the sideline. But he didn’t miss a snap, and still proceeded to catch 7 more passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.
That sort of dominance is why the Falcons moved up to draft him. And myself being originally critic of that trade, it also compelled me to change my mind.
The Falcons offense looks like it should be able to provide a bit more balance on the ground with the addition of Steven Jackson this year. But the Falcons passing attack still doesn’t have a consistent vertical element to the offense. Due to the inability to run the ball effectively, the team had to trade off big plays for consistency trying to move the ball through the air. They finished last year ranked 29th in the league in terms of generating 20+ yard plays per pass attempt, not far removed from where they were in 2010 prior to the Jones when they were dead last in the league. If Jackson can help take pressure off the passing game to constantly be looking to move the chains, it should open more big play opportunities for Jones and the rest of the receivers.