Gonzalez leaves Falcons camp with no return set; more notes

BY foxsports • July 27, 2013

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After participating in the first two days of practice, Tony Gonzalez departed training camp. The Falcons had said they would grant Gonzalez, who almost retired in the offseason, time in training camp to spend with his family in California, as his son Nikko, 12, is playing football for the first time.

Coach Mike Smith did not say when Gonzalez would return. He said the team is planning for Gonzalez to play only in the final two preseason games. The third preseason game is Aug. 24, setting up the possibility that Gonzalez will be gone for several weeks.

"I don't want to get into details," Smith said of Gonzalez's absence. He also said he did not want to continue to update Gonzalez's status.

Perhaps because Gonzalez will have an extended absence, quarterback Matt Ryan took the proactive step prior to training camp to spend time in California with Gonzalez working out. (This also could have been inferred from a photo that Ryan's wife Sarah tweeted that included Gonzalez's wife October.)

"I think its good," Ryan said of Gonzalez's unusual camp respite. "He had some previous stuff he had committed to before he decided to come back. He always maintains his shape really, really well. He and I have a great rapport. We've worked together a lot. I was out in California prior to training camp to get some work with him as well. I think that timing and then the last couple of days its going to be plenty of time, so it's not an issue at all."

With Gonzalez gone, the other players competing for his back-up spot -– rookie Levine Toilolo, Tommy Gallarda, Chase Coffman and Colin Cloherty -– will get plenty more reps in practice. Coffman and Gallarda got most of the reps with the first team on Saturday while Toilolo, the teams fourth-round pick this year, and Cloherty practiced with the second team.

"I think it's a great opportunity for some of our young guys to step up and to work with the first unit," Ryan said "They're all hard workers and they all do a good job. It'll be interesting to see how things shake up these next couple of weeks."

On Sunday -- their fourth day of training camp -- the Falcons will hold their first padded practice.

a mainstay of training camps, as were two-days, coaching philosophies
have changed over the years and cut back on padded practices. Under the
collective bargaining agreement, teams must have a three-day acclimation
period before holding their first padded practice. After that, they can
have as many padded practices as they want.

"Obviously, we're not going to do that," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said.

of right now, the Falcons plan only to have seven padded practices
during training camp –- roughly one a week. They will hold two other
practices in shells. Smith said that could change depending on the team's
relative health.

For offensive and defensive linemen in
particular, padded practices have taken on added weight in the
evaluations of the coaches and the front office when it comes to winning
jobs and roster spots.

"When you go into pads, it doesn't change a
whole lot of what were trying to get done," Smith said. "Our No. 1 goal
is to keep everyone healthy. We're not going to be on the ground, we're
not going to be blocking below the waist. We're going to be taking care
of one another. I think our guys have done a great (job) of that up to this

However, for some players, the padded practices don't share
quite the same import. Asked what they meant for him, Ryan showed a rare glib side.

"Nothing," Ryan said with a laugh.
"Then he noticed former Falcons Pro-Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler, now a
broadcaster with local radio station 790 The Zone, shaking his head.

different," Ryan said. "The pass rush around becomes a little bit
different. The intensity picks up a lot and I guess throwing with
shoulder pads becomes a little bit different."

Cornerback Desmond Trufant, the team's first-round pick, has struggled early on in having to go one-on-one with wide receiver Julio Jones and Roddy White, arguably the league's top tandem at that position. While it seemed as if the coaching staff was giving Trufant extra reps on Saturday with the third team, as well as the first, Smith said that actually was a case of Trufant getting reps at the nickel corner spot.

"Were cross-training all of our defensive backs and we've been very transparent with those guys," Smith said. "We've got to get guys ready to play both inside and outside so I don't know that it was extra reps. He's playing multiple positions. You'll see all our rookie defensive backs will be doing that. We've got to find a mix where we can find out who's going to be our third corner."

Trufant said he's trying to learn all of the positions.

"They have me playing the right corner and the nickel, as well, too, so I'm just learning both spots," he said. "The more I can help the team, the better. So whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do it."

Smith has said previously that the nickel is harder for a rookie to play because he has to be aware of more responsibilities – not to mention action -- in the middle of the field whereas the outside corners basically match up against the outside receiver and follow him, for the most part, wherever he goes.

"It's different calls," Trufant said. "I played nickel in college before. It's just about learning the system. The more I learn the system the more comfortable I get."

On the eve of training camp, the Falcons cut wide receiver Tim Toone, who had spent time on the active roster last season. To replace him, they signed undrafted free agent 6-foot, 196-pound Marcus Sales, who caught 64 passes last year at Syracuse for 882 yards and eight touchdowns. Sales had spent part of the rookie minicamp with the team.