Levine Toilolo has met Tony Gonzalez once and he only got to spend a few days with the future Hall of Fame tight end, but it hasn't stopped him from admiring what Gonzalez has been able to accomplish.
Toilolo, a rookie for the Falcons this season, worked with Gonzalez for the first few days of training camp, but since then he and the other tight ends have fought amongst themselves on the football field to earn the right to be Gonzalez' two backups this season.
To some, Toilolo's situation may be a tough one. As a rookie, some see the former Stanford tight end as the bridge for the Falcons at the position after Gonzalez retires this season. But the other players on the roster at tight end are in the same position; all with the opportunity to show the Falcons something this season to tell them there's an answer for the future on the roster. Despite the circumstance, Toilolo doesn't feel any extra heat as a first-year player.
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"I wouldn't say there's more added pressure than a normal rookie," Toilolo said. "Also with the tight ends here, I don't think they're just looking at me. There are guys like Chase (Coffman) and Andrew (Szczerba). Those are solid tight ends too. Not only can I learn from Tony, but I'm also trying to pick their brains as well as the coaching that Coach Scelfo gives me."
Last week against the Bengals, Toilolo was on the field for 32 snaps on offense, 55 percent of the team's total and the highest at tight end. That's a good sign for the rookie who appears to be competing with Coffman for the billing of the No. 2 tight end. Coach Scelfo said earlier this week Toilolo has improved daily since arriving to the Falcons and that's been the tight end's objective.
"I'm just trying to progress not just week to week, but every day," Toilolo said. "I'm trying to eliminate the mistakes I make or the errors and make them a one-time thing. That's right now what I'm focusing on and trying to build on limiting mistakes day to day and get better that way."
If Gonzalez ushered in a breed of tight end into the NFL, Toilolo has the opportunity to build on it. At 6-foot-8, he's almost always the biggest target on the field and that's been consistent throughout his career. At Stanford, 10 of his 49 career catches were for touchdowns. The former high school basketball and football star said his height has always been an asset and he continues to learn how to use it to his advantage.
"I think all throughout my career, I've been blessed with the physical traits I have," he said. "Throughout high school and college, in the red zone, I've been able to work on trying to use my size when it comes to that area. Here, it's a lot better for me, with the guys I'm working against with the defense here, they make it tough, and every day it's something that I'm working on to try to improve."
Toilolo is also blessed with an opportunity not many players have. Coming in during an all-time great's last season is allowing him to see what it takes to have a long and productive career, the kind he'd like to have.
"As a tight end of the game, any time you get a chance to meet someone like that who is a future Hall of Famer, you just try to watch everything you can," Toilolo said. "Having a few days with him and seeing the way he operates and the way he works before and after practice definitely made an impression on me."