FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Tony Gonzalez is doing his best to get through another training camp.
Even 5-yard hitch patterns Thursday seemed too demanding, not just for the star tight end, but for most of the Atlanta Falcons’ skill players in the North Georgia heat.
“Anybody who says they look forward to this is crazy in my book, and there are some guys out there that are crazy,” Gonzalez said. “You enjoy yourself in the offseason, but it’s time to get back to work.”
As he’s done over the past two weeks in his first camp with Atlanta after 12 seasons in Kansas City, Gonzalez routinely beat pass coverage and placed precise blocks on linebackers and other defenders.
The 10-time Pro Bowl pick only smiles when asked if he dislikes training camp, partly because he’s already and expectedly made a positive first impression. Gonzalez also knows, however, that you can’t underestimate the value of practicing correctly in the NFL.
“I’ve been around a long time,” he said. “I’ve seen great teams on paper. I played on some really good teams out there in Kansas City, and we really weren’t able to put it together. Right now, we’ve got a lot of talent on this team, and they’re coming off a great season. We aren’t going to catch anybody by surprise, so it’s important that we work hard and prepare.”
Gonzalez agreed to a trade from the Chiefs so he could join Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and wideout Roddy White to give himself a chance to make a deep playoff run.
High expectations meant nothing, however, after an off day on Sunday. Two hard sessions Monday and a heat index hovering at 100 degrees Tuesday caused tempers to rise.
Safety Erik Coleman tangled with right tackle Tyson Clabo. Center Todd McClure and rookie Vance Walker scuffled so hard that offensive and defensive teammates had to separate them.
No Atlanta defender is brazen enough to challenge Gonzalez, whose status as the NFL’s career leader in catches, yards receiving and touchdown receptions for a tight end keep him off limits.
“He’s one of those guys, that I can promise you, nobody on our defense is going to mess with a man like that,” said first-year Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, who faced his new teammate “too many times to count” since 1999 during their days in the AFC. “Off limits. No different from (quarterback) Matt Ryan or (running back) Michael Turner.”
The 33-year-old Gonzalez is among many other Falcons veterans who rarely practice twice a day, and during the season, coach Mike Smith’s rules stay the same.
Smith routinely keeps veterans such as John Abraham, Brian Finneran and Peterson on the sideline. Smith did the same last season with veterans Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy.
“They only make me go one a day,” Gonzalez said. “That’s one of the perks of being an old guy. (Camp is) never easy and never something you can totally prepare for. But it’s part of the business whether you agree with it or not. We’re out here. We’re trying to get better and just trying to make our mark and hopefully it’ll pay off.”
Gonzalez plans to keep a low profile over the next four weeks. He has amassed 916 catches, 10,940 yards receiving, 76 touchdown catches, 26 games of 100 or more yards and four 1,000-yard seasons.
“I’m not coming in here trying to catch 100 balls or save the day,” Gonzalez said. “I’m going to do the same thing I always do. When they call my number and call my play, I’m going to try to produce, and things will take care of themselves.”
Two weeks after they opened camp, the Falcons who were a surprising 11-5 last season and reached the playoffs, will open the preseason Saturday in Detroit.
Atlanta’s first regular-season game is Sept. 13 at home against Miami.
“I’m excited. Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It’s still tough, very tough especially trying to learn the whole offense. It’s something we’ve got to do in order to go where we want to go, and we’re going to do it.”