A year ago, Chase Coffman was in training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and didn't last long. This year he's with the Falcons, a place that feels much more like a football home, and it's been quite a ride.
With the Falcons he's using a positive experience with the team late last season and a productive offseason to carve out a role on this year's team. With the veteran Tony Gonzalez missing time for family commitments, Coffman is getting plenty of reps and making the most of them when he can get in the field with the offense's starters.
"I'm feeling like I've learned a lot more," he said, "especially with Tony being gone this offseason and right now getting in more of a groove with the first team offense to take some of those reps."
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No one expects Coffman to be a starter right away and he's not needed in that role this year with Gonzalez returning for a final season. But a strong season for Coffman in his fifth year could set the Falcons up well for a future without their Hall of Fame tight end. Coffman and 2013 fourth-round pick Levine Toilolo could help be the answer at tight end in coming seasons.
Coffman was competing with Tommy Gallarda for the primary backup to Gonzalez and they offered different skill sets to the Falcons. Gallarda was more of a blocking tight end while Coffman has the ability to make big catches and offers a vertical threat in addition to his big target.
With the news from Sunday that Gallarda reached an injury settlement with the Falcons, the competition looks set with Coffman and Toilolo. Coffman said he likes being in Atlanta and at this stage in his career after his stall in Cincinnati, he thinks it's a good fit.
"I feel like it is (a good place for me)," Coffman said. "It's a good offense and a good system to learn behind Tony and seeing what he does well. Coach Scelfo has done a great job with me and blocking and putting me in a good situation to win or be successful."
Before Gonzalez left the team after his first few days, he told all the tight ends to make sure they catch as many passes as they can and do well with the extra reps they were sure to all receive in his absence.
Coffman has done just that, making the most of his reps dating back through the offseason. Gonzalez' teammates miss him because of what he adds to a meeting room or a practice, but the extra reps are important for all the tight ends, especially a player like Coffman, entering the prime of his career and needing to prove he has more than just potential.
"He is a good guy to have around," Coffman said. "He's fun to have around. He's good to watch out here. It's a great opportunity for us other guys to get more reps."