This is the fourth of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster after their offseason program. Coming Friday: Offensive linemen. When the Falcons report for training camp on July 26, second-year tight end Austin Hooper will expected to take over the starting position.
The Falcons are passing the baton at tight end from Jacob Tamme to second-year tight end Austin Hooper, who was selected in the third -round of the 2016 draft.
“He had a real good rookie year, especially for not being here for OTAs,” tight ends coach Wade Harman said. “He had to catch up starting at training camp. It was a long year with us asking him to do all of that stuff. We put a lot on him and he did a really good job.”
The Falcons elected not to re-sign Tamme, in part because of Hooper’s promise.
“I think what we are seeing is that he has a really good understanding of where to line up, what his motions are and what his responsibilities are,” Harman said. “I think he knows that and is real comfortable with that.”
The Falcons are counting on Hooper blossoming in 2017.
“He’s really growing at the finer points of the position,” Harman said.
With Levine Toilolo and Joshua Perkins, the tight end group was productive in 2016 as they caught 10 touchdowns passes: Tamme (three), Hooper (three), Toilolo (two), Perkins one) and D.J. Tialavea (one). In the playoffs, Hooper caught six passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. Toilolo caught three passes for 31 passes.
Toilolo will remain a key cog in the run game and in pass protection.
“We put Levine in some really tough situations, especially in play-action protection where he gets stuck on some really good players,” Harman said. “He’s done a really good job for us. When we have time, we usually get really good chunks (of yardage).”
Toilolo, who dropped a lot of passes earlier in his career, was functional with a limited role in the passing attack.
“Then he’ll get opportunities, probably not as many as he would want, he had some really big opportunities in the passing game when they covered Julio (Jones) and covered (Mohamed) Sanu and all of those guys,” Harman said. “And they are worried about the backs and then all of sudden, boom, there he goes down the sideline for a touchdown.”
The Falcons ask a lot of the tight end position.
“They take pride in that they are run blockers, they are pass protecters, they are in the backfield, they are split out and they are in-line,” Harman said. “They do a lot of different things. Probably second to the quarterback they have to know the responsibilities of everybody else. I think they take pride in that.”
The Falcons drafted tight end Eric Saubert in the fifth-round out of Drake. He had to learn the offense over the offseason.
“When the pads come on, that’s when we find out the truth,” Harman said.
The Falcons know Saubert is a polished route-runner.
“He’s definitely ahead in that (route-running),” Harman said. “They split him out a lot in the passing game and they used him in the passing game a lot. He’s a little limited in the run schemes.”
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison, 69 Marquis Lucas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
RG [71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland], 68 Trevor Robinson
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Daniel Brunskill, 75 Andreas Knappe
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 85 Eric Saubert, 49 Darion Griswold
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley, 96 Martin Ifedi
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Taniela Tupou
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
SLB 59 DeVondre Campbell, 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 52 Josh Keyes
WLB 36 Kemal Ishmael, 42 Duke Riley, 56 Jermaine Grace, 55 J’Terius Jones
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds
NB 34 Brian Poole, 33 Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, 27 Damontae Kazee
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 41 Quincy Mauger
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC