The Atlanta Falcons have a great deal to be excited about for the upcoming season. With the arrival of future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzales, the Dirty Birds can continue the evolution of their young offense as well as QB Matt Ryan.
It is unusual for any one player to have such a dramatic effect on a team, unless their efforts are combined with other components. A vaunted running back is usually not as effective unless he is accompanied by a good offensive line and a new QB does not set the world on fire unless he has quality receivers to throw to.
In this case, Gonzales should have an immediate impact on the Falcons, from the plays that are called, and from the options available to Ryan and the offensive staff.
Gonzales is a game changer because he possesses a skill set that is more consistent with wide-outs than tight ends. He has very good speed, even late in his career, can play in the slot and can be put in motion. He is a better than average run blocker, which is an added bonus for play callers, as they do not need to change personnel for run calls.
Gonzales has a rare combination of size and speed, which makes single coverage from opposing linebackers a favorable match-up for the offense. He also stretches the middle of the field defenders. In other words, when Gonzales lines up in a traditional formation, he can get up the field quickly on seam or hash routes. This creates a void at the line of scrimmage as the linebacker must honor the route from the TE position.
This smash route will also cause the deep safety to shade to the center of the field, or to the smash route. This now will free up the outside receivers to one-on-one coverage. Ryan will then be able to read a wide open field and throw to the open man more often than not.
In open or spread sets, Gonzales will have a huge impact on the run game. Previously, defenses could load the box with an extra defender, a strong safety in nickel packages, or a linebacker in base coverage. With Gonzales occupying a slot receiver spot in these sets, the defenses will be forced to honor his presence on the outside.
This now creates favorable run match-ups for the Falcons offensive line. With Gonzales on the outside, the line is sure to see only five defenders at the point of attack. That means a body on a body, and easy pickings for any NFL O-line.
Perhaps the greatest impact Tony Gonzales is sure to have is in the locker room. This may not change how plays are called, but will change the attitudes of a young team. His leadership abilities and work ethic will be what permeates the locker room, which should be a boost to a franchise that is on the move.