Despite missing practices and two preseason games, Gonzalez was back at it and participated in team activities on Sunday and Tuesday. Watching him at practice, it was as if he had been there all along — mainly because, in a way, he was.
Although the tight end was in California watching his son, Nikko, play football, he took the time every day to practice in the morning and then watch film from that day’s practice from Flowery Branch on an iPad at night.
“They have all the plays there, so there’s nothing that they saw that I didn’t see,” Gonzalez said after Tuesday's practice. “I got to see everything.”
Gonzalez, who got some extra work in with the rest of the tight ends after practice was over Tuesday, admitted that felt good but was still a little rusty because “there’s nothing like playing the game.” Despite this, he’s confident that his experience will help him to soon get used to being back out on the field.
Head coach Mike Smith had nothing but praise for Gonzalez and his skills during practice, saying that the tight end is always prepared and actually took on a bigger load of snaps the past two days than he normally does.
Any athlete missing their team’s practice as they start the season is uncommon, but Smith had no reservations about letting the veteran take the time to be with his family, especially considering he’s a 13-time Pro Bowler.
As for the rest of the team, Gonzalez admitted he was a little worried how the guys in the locker room would react to him getting some time off, but knew that they all understood, which he deemed as “overwhelming and special.” He added that the approval of quarterback
“Matt was OK with it, and that’s good enough for me right there,” he said.
The main thing for Gonzalez was that both him and the organization kept their end of the bargain, which he believed was accomplished. Now that he’s back, it’s time to focus on the present and keep improving so that they can accomplish what everyone is focused on.
“They know where my head’s at,” he said. “My head is at getting a championship, and bringing that to the city of Atlanta. And I think they’re all in the same mindset that I am.”
To get to that championship, Gonzalez said they have a lot to work on, but he feels they have a quality team that can carry their success from last year while realizing at the same time that last year is over so it's time to shift their focus to this season.
“You look at the team and you look at the quality of players that we have. It goes back to winning a championship, that’s the type of team that we have,” he said. “It’s all about going out there and executing and getting it right and I like where this team is headed.”
Gonzalez stressed that it doesn’t matter how deep the roster looks on paper, but instead it’s crucial to take that talent and transfer it over to the field and execute with a fresh and excited mind.
“We have to go out there and prove that we’re one of the best teams in the NFL,” he said. “We have to do it week in and week out. I think with the leadership that we have on this team, we can do it. I’m very confident that we will get it done.”