Austin Hooper, like Tony Gonzalez, adds versatility to Falcons’ offense

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Austin Hooper confer after running a play during team practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Austin Hooper confer after running a play during team practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch.

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper didn't want to take too much of Tony Gonzalez's time when the two were in Canton, Ohio, for the NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies last week.

After all, Hooper said, it was his time. He shook Gonzalez’s hand and congratulated him before he was inducted for his 17-year career as a tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta. But, Hooper did say the two, both from Southern California, have spoken in the past. Gonzalez was willing to take time to “impart wisdom” on the four-year tight end.

“He’s such a good guy, he’s not the guy who wants to hold any secrets or anything like that,” Hooper said Sunday at the Falcons’ open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “I’m very grateful for the type of person he is to be able to do that.”

Hooper said he watched Gonzalez when he was at the University of California-Berkeley. The Falcons drafted Hooper in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Stanford.

Hooper called Gonzalez “the guy” and is appreciative of having come full circle and met him.

Hooper said he studies Gonzalez’s game and takes parts of it to apply to his own. He strives to be able to catch the ball away from his body as Gonzalez did. Hooper admits that while he may not be the speediest receiver, having long arms and the ability to catch the ball with a defender on him is beneficial.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn likes how they can use Hooper in different spots, much like Gonzalez did during his time in Atlanta. He has the ability to split out wide as a receiver or lineup next to the offensive line.

“The versatility is the thing I think that jumps out,” Quinn said Sunday. “Not all tight ends can do that.”

Within a month of the playoffs ending Matt Ryan and Hooper connected in Southern California to work together. The two did again in the offseason program, then again after OTAs for about three weeks.

“Any time you can spend 100 hours with someone, 1,000 reps with someone, it helps,” Hooper said. “It's just great.”

With that said, Ryan has gotten to know his tight end pretty well. But when Hooper was told that his quarterback compared him and Gonzalez as being similar in length, he quickly shot it down.

“Yeah, no I’m not,” Hooper said. “I appreciate the sentiment, but Tony is the greatest to ever do it.”