FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- At age 37, Tony Gonzalez needs a break every now and then.
Fortunately for the Atlanta Falcons tight end, he’s able to preserve his body for at least a few plays as of late, when offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter inserts tackle Ryan Schraeder as an extra tight end as part of the jumbo package to enhance the run and beef up protection. It takes away some of the blocking responsibilities from Gonzalez, who can focus more on route-running in those situations runner.
"It’s great," Gonzalez said Thursday. "I’ll take it wherever I can get it. … I still have high energy. But at the same time, it isn’t what it used to be. I still feel like I can play at the same level, but I do get a little bit more tired than I used to. So it’s great for that jumbo package to come in and get me a little bit of breather. Maybe I don’t have to be at the point (of attack) every time. And those guys are capable."
The Falcons made a concerted effort last week to incorporate the rookie Schraeder into the offensive game plan as both the tackle-eligible player and at right tackle in place of Jeremy Trueblood. Joe Hawley had served as the extra tackle in the jumbo package before becoming the regular starter at center. Koetter also wanted to utilize rookie tight end Levine Toilolo more often as an extra blocker as Toilolo looks to improve that skill.
"A lot of it, too, at this point, obviously we’re not going to the playoffs, and those young guys need to come in and get that experience," Gonzalez said. "Because they’re going to be around here and they’re going to be, hopefully, staples in this offense for a long time. And they need to get the job done and show what they’re capable of doing and get that experience."
Not to mention Gonzalez has been dealing with a nagging toe injury for the past few weeks. Head coach Mike Smith said Gonzalez was "ahead of schedule’’ in terms of fully recovering from the injury.
Still, the Falcons figure Gonzalez’s body has gone through enough punishment over almost a full 17 seasons, so they’ll continue to spell him on occasion during his final four NFL games before retirement.
"Tony is as good a pass blocker as there is, but we try not to put Tony in that situation too often just for the wear and tear on him," Koetter said of using the jumbo package. "As long as we can have runs and passes out of it so we’re not too predictable, so that every time that guy comes in we’re going to run. Which last week, I think it worked out perfect."