TEs need to help Falcons out of tight spot

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
9:40
PM ET
The loss of Julio Jones for the season and the uncertainty surrounding Roddy White's injury status are destined to alter the Atlanta Falcons' offensive approach in the coming weeks.

Could that mean a lot more two-tight-end formations moving forward, considering how much Tony Gonzalez already has been relied upon and how rookie Levine Toilolo has started to develop?

"I think he's coming along like we anticipated," head coach Mike Smith said of Toilolo. "I think he's going to be a very good threat, especially in the red zone.

"But, yes, [more two-tight-end sets] would be an option for us as well."

Gonzalez has been an integral part of the offense the entire season and is second on the team with 33 receptions, right behind the injured Jones (41). Gonzalez has been targeted 47 times, also right behind Jones (59).

Teaming the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez more with 6-foot-8 Toilolo won't exactly give the Falcons the type of tandem the New England Patriots had in recent years, but quarterback Matt Ryan will need such big targets to compensate for the loss of the 6-foot-3 Jones.

Toilolo will get even more snaps, too, because Chase Coffman -- listed as the backup tight end coming into the season -- has not been on the practice field as of late after suffering a knee injury prior to the last game. People forget Coffman is a capable receiver who actually set an NCAA record for tight ends with 247 career receptions at Missouri.

As for Toilolo, he was down on himself after dropping a touchdown pass against the Patriots but made up for it with a score against the New York Jets. In fact, two of Toilolo's five receptions have gone for touchdowns. Gonzalez leads the Falcons with three touchdown receptions.

Two-tight-end formations are no longer used solely for blocking, as the Patriots proved with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2011. That year, Gronkowski and Hernandez accounted for 169 receptions, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns -- NFL records for a tight-end combination.

Gonzalez and Toilolo, of course, won't reach those numbers. But at least the combo gives Ryan and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter something to consider for an offense still seeking its identity, as White recently put it. Of course, the Falcons could run the ball more if they get Steven Jackson back from a hamstring injury. And Koetter could go with more bunch sets and more shifts and motions to help soften up defensive coverages.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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