The Chiefs knew what they were losing when they traded Tony Gonzalez. And the Falcons certainly knew what they were acquiring when they offered up their second-round choice in this year's draft. For those who watched several seasons of perhaps the best tight end in NFL history playing for their team, there's still a part of us who miss Gonzalez' ability on the field and personality and leadership away from it. And according to the Falcons head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons find those same qualities endearing.
At the NFL Combine, Smith spoke about what Gonzalez meant to the team in his first year. As predicted, he affected much more than just the tight end position. "I think that Tony not only helped our offense, but he helped our entire football team. Tony's a consummate professional in terms of his work habits and the way that he works. Here's a guy that's gonna be a first ballot Hall of Famer and he comes out early to work. He's catching passes. That rubs off not only on the other receivers, but I think it rubbed off on our defensive linemen. I would notice our defensive linemen would be out early spending extra time."
"I think it was very good for Matt [Ryan, quarterback] to have Tony," he continues, "Another weapon in our arsenal. And I know our offensive staff was real pleased with what we were able to do this season. I think we went from 19 catches at the tight end position in year one to over 100 in year two, so I think it really opens up a lot of things for us."
More comments after the jump:I also asked Smith to discuss his experience choosing in the top five in 2008 when they drafted Matt Ryan at No. 3. "When you're picking in the first five, you're always gonna have some angst in terms of what direction you're gonna go. It became real obvious for us in our experience with Matt Ryan about two weeks before the draft that we would make the decision to draft Matt."
Smith also answered my question about what a team should be watching for at this phase of the off-season. "In terms of what happens at the combine, you get an opportunity to visit with the players, you get the medical and that's one of the biggest things that's overlooked. We get the medical and physical that takes place. They go over the players with a fine-toothed comb. We know a bit about their character before the combine. We spend hours and hours and hours on watching tape. So it really is the interview process and the physical. Matt did not throw here at the combine, but he did have a workout and he did show well."