Training camp is right around the corner for NFL teams. Meaning, coaches will begin to observe the players who they think are the best fit for their respective team. As for rookie players, it is the beginning of the journey to establishing their place on a team. For returners and incoming free agents, it is the opportunity to get back in shape and fight for a starting position on the roster.
As for the Atlanta Falcons, head coach Mike Smith will have his hands full, determining who will start for the Falcons going into the season. However, one thing is for sure, Smith and the Falcons organization can only move up after having a disastrous 4-12 season a year ago.
With that being said, there will be numerous players to watch during training camp who could possibly make a huge impact for the Falcons in the regular season. Nevertheless, one player all Falcons fans should keep a close eye on is tight end Levine Toilolo.
Because he sat in the shadow of former and now retired tight end Tony Gonzalez, he did not get much playing time as a result. In fact, through 16 games, the former Stanford University tight end only caught 11 passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Nevertheless, with Tony Gonzalez retired, Toilolo now has the opportunity to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming tight end in the NFL.
The 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo fits the profile and makeup of tight ends in the NFL today. Although young in terms of experience, he reminds me of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Meaning, Toilolo has the ability to create mismatches for smaller defensive backs based on his height and size. Thus, turning these mismatches into prominent offensive production for the Falcons.
With training camp starting in less than two weeks, Toilolo comes in as the number one tight end on the depth chart. Not to mention, one can argue he is the most talented tight end of the five on the roster, although only having a year of experience. He will be competing against Brian Wozniak, Mickey Shuler, Jacob Pedersen and Bear Pascoe for the starting position.
Now in terms of experience, Pascoe and Shuler have the most out of all the tight ends on the roster. Look for them to use their experience to their advantage against Toilolo. However, according to a cover32.com article, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan mentioned not only has Toilolo gotten stronger, he has had a two years of guidance from one of the best tight ends to ever play the game in Gonzalez. In regard to the rookies, Pedersen and Wozniak, I do not see them as a major threat for a starting position at tight end.
All in all, I expect Toilolo to come out of training camp as the starter going into preseason and the regular season. He will continue to progress and improve throughout training camp to become better and stronger as the season nears for the Atlanta Falcons.