News and Notes: Gonzo Makes Good

Just about every coach and player associated with the Falcons' offense was just downright giddy about the play of tight end Tony Gonzalez at the recently completed minicamp.

Gonzalez was flying around the field like a youngster. On his first day, he asked tight ends coach Chris Scelfo to throw him passes before practice. On the last day of minicamp, he stayed after and had one of the ball boys throwing his passes.

Clearly, he was showing the Falcons' young players how a future Hall of Famer goes about his business. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey had him run a couple of vertical routes and it doesn't look like the 33-year-old has lost a step.

"He's everything that I've seen for the last nine or 10 years," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "He's the prototypical tight end. He can block. He can catch. He can run after the catch. He's just a guy who's going to make everybody on this team, offense and defense, better.

Gonzalez and quarterback Matt Ryan didn't waste time trying to connect. After he was traded on the Thursday before the draft, the following Wednesday Gonzalez was in Flowery Branch catching passes from Ryan.

On the first day of minicamp, Ryan couldn't help but send a ton of passes to Gonzalez. "Any time that you get a new toy, you want to try it out," Ryan said. "I threw a couple of balls his way, and he didn't disappoint. He made some good catches. He does a great job of getting open. I'm just excited to have him here."

Gonzalez, is the all-time NFL leader in receptions (916), receiving yards (10,940) and touchdowns (76) for a tight end. He has made the past 10 Pro Bowls and has been selected to the All-Pro team five times.

NOTES, QUOTES

Defensive end John Abraham and kicker Jason Elam did not participate in the team's minicamp. Abraham and Elam joined defensive back Von Hutchins (broken foot), offensive lineman Alex Stepanovich (back) and cornerback David Irons (knee) on the list of players being held out. "We felt they weren't 100 percent ready to go, so we made a decision to limit those guys today," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Abe is left over from the rigors of the 16-game season. He had a number of ailments."

Abraham had nerve, shoulder and neck ailments. He started all 17 games last season, but he left the game early against Carolina on Nov. 23. Smith would not confirm if Abraham had any offseason surgeries or medical procedures.

"Not going to talk about it," Smith said.

Abraham, who set a franchise record with 16.5 sacks and was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, has a history of hamstring issues.

Elam played in all 17 games last season, but was listed on the injury report with a hip injury over several weeks. "You look at those guys, Jason and John, they are up there in years," Smith said. "They've got a number of minicamps underneath their belts. We are going to limit them and limit some of the older players. We want to get a look at as many of these young guys as we can."

--The Falcons made a big deal about how their "over-30 club" helped to lead the young team last season. But several of them where shown the door and won't be returning. The group includes Todd Weiner, who retired. Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy and Grady Jackson, who were allowed to leave during free agency.

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder thinks he has enough veterans to blend in some of the young talent on defense. He cited Erik Coleman, Michael Peterson, John Abraham and Chauncey Davis. "We've got enough veteran leadership that can work out to be a great blend with the young players," VanGorder said. "With young players ... right now it's kind of crucial to allow them to get comfortable."

No matter how the defense is retooled, it figures to be young. "We're going to be young, but I still think we've got a good mixture," VanGorder said. "We have a number of guys going into their third year. We played with some rookies last year, who gained some valuable experience and should improve this year. We've got a good formula set up."

--Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey knows that with TE Tony Gonzalez on board, teams will have trouble keying on one player. There were games last season when teams could sell out on stopping Michael Turner or Roddy White and shut the offense down.

"It will be hard to beat down on one guy with Tony in there," Mularkey said. "It should help the run game with him in there."

The theme for the offense is "Get Better." "We want to get better, everywhere," Mularkey said.

--First-round pick Peria Jerry suffered a mild right knee sprain, but is expected to be ready for the team's organized training activities.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We haven't come to an agreement. Whenever it happens, it happens. We'll just wait around for it." -- Pro Bowl WR Roddy White on the progress on his contract extension talks with the Falcons. He is set to make $2.28 million next season under his current contract. Preferably, White said he would like to enter the season with his contract situation resolved.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Running back Michael "The Burner" Turner applauded the trade for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Turner laughed when it was pointed out that he might not have to face what seemed like 12 men in the box. "They have to play us honest," Turner said. "We are not just a one-dimensional team. We can use the middle of the field more.
Line him out wide. We can create some mismatches out there."

Turner led the NFL with 376 carries last season. With a more diversified passing attack, his carries should drop. "I'm not worried about that right now, but we've got more pieces to the puzzle," Turner said. "I'm going to prepare like I have to do the same amount of work. If I have to do less, that would be great for me."

MEDICAL UPDATES:

--Defensive end John Abraham held out of minicamp for undisclosed medical reasons.
--Placekicker Jason Elam held out of minicamp for undisclosed medical reasons.
--Cornerback Von Hutchins (broken foot) is expected to return for OTAs.
--Offensive guard/center Alex Stepanovich (back).
--Cornerback David Irons (knee) on the list of players being held out of minicamp.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: P/K Michael Koenen: Tendered at $2.483M; signed tender Feb. 17.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OT Wayne Gandy.
--SS Lawyer Milloy.
--TE Marcus Pollard.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--OT Pat McCoy (not tendered as RFA).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RT Tyson Clabo (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has started for last two seasons and played with a mean streak.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--OL Renardo Foster.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--OG Harvey Dahl: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--DE Chauncey Davis: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, guarantee unknown.
--S Jamaal Fudge: Potential RFA; terms unknown.
--LB Tony Gilbert: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Brent Grimes: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Antoine Harris: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Jason Jefferson: UFA; terms unknown.
--P/K Michael Koenen: FFA; $2.483M/1 yr.
--TE Justin Peelle: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--RB Jason Snelling: ERFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Ben Wilkerson (not tendered as RFA); $535,000/1 yr.
--LB Coy Wire: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--TE Tony Gonzalez (trade Chiefs).
--MLB Mike Peterson: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Brett Romberg: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: FA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST
--LB Michael Boley: UFA Giants; $25M/5 yrs, $11M guaranteed.
--LB Keith Brooking: UFA Cowboys; $6M/3 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
--CB Domonique Foxworth: UFA Ravens; $27.2M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$3.38 report bonus/$16.5M guaranteed.
--DE Simon Fraser (released).
--DT Grady Jackson: UFA Lions; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DT Kindal Moorehead (released).
--WR Laurent Robinson (traded Rams).
--LT Todd Weiner (retired).

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