Spot Crowded Behind Gonzalez at Tight End

Spot Crowded Behind Gonzalez at Tight End

Jay Adams

Published June 6, 2013 at 1:47 PM

It’s rare when tight end coach Chris Scelfo would ever find a positive in Tony Gonzalez’s absence, but during a crucial year — when it’s a virtual certainty that Gonzalez’s career will come to an end at the conclusion of the season — Scelfo is enjoying the chance to get a closer look during offseason training activities at some of the players behind the future Hall-of-Fame tight end.

And it sure is crowded in the shadow of Gonzalez, as the Falcons push toward training camp.

After drafting Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo in April, the Falcons are sitting with four potential backup tight end candidates and Scelfo’s job of trying to find the little things that stick out about each seems unenviable. Toilolo is finishing his degree at Stanford and has been away from the team’s headquarters since the end of rookie minicamp at the start of May, but Scelfo has been seeing a bunch from veterans Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda, and second-year tight end Andrew Szczerba.

“What (Gonzalez’s absence) does, it gives those guys an opportunity to improve every day because they’re getting every rep,” Scelfo said during OTAs this week. “They know coming into OTAs what they need to improve on and to see the improvement of those guys, to be able to see the improvement they’ve got to make, they’ve got to do it, and they’re doing it every day, so it’s a big benefit to them.”

Last season, Gallarda spent more time on the field than any of the three, platooning the backup spot with Michael Palmer behind Gonzalez. Gallarda, referred to on several occasions last year by the coaching staff as the best blocking tight end on the roster, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the year and Coffman’s chance to step into the backup light came up.

Coffman, a different style of tight end with his pass-catching abilities, made one of the biggest and best of the season in the divisional playoff win over Seattle when his 16-yard catch set up a first-half touchdown for the Falcons.

“I think the biggest thing with Chase, coming out of college, he was injured and he’s been injured. I think we’ve done a good job of putting him in situations where he has a chance to succeed and he has the ability,” Scelfo said. “He had over 250 catches in college. He’s a good route runner. He can catch the ball. We’ve just got to be wise to the fact of what he can and can’t do, and that’s coaching.”

Add to the mix Szczerba, who spent most of his rookie season on the Falcons practice squad after Coffman had been added to the active roster, and Toilolo and it’s easy to see how things can get cloudy at the backup spot.

Scelfo said that there will be a lot of catching up to do for Toilolo when he is able to join the Falcons after graduation, but the veteran position coach is excited to have the 6-foot-8 tight end on board.

Toilolo spent time with Scelfo during the Falcons’ rookie minicamp the week after the draft, and in those few days together, Scelfo got a feel for the rookie’s potential.

“In the snapshot, I think from the first practice at rookie minicamp to the end, he did some things better than he did the previous practice,” Scelfo said. “If we stay on that incline, then he’ll be a good addition to our football team.”

UPDATE: Make that five tight ends behind Gonzalez. The Falcons announced Thursday afternoon that the team had signed Anthony Miller and waived-injured Adam Nissley. For more on that story, click here.

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