Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is expected to return from family leave by the end of this week and rejoin the team for practice Sunday.
Gonzalez participated in the first two days of training camp before returning to California in a prearranged deal with coach Mike Smith. Gonzalez is set to play in the team’s third exhibition game Aug. 24 at the Titans.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter doesn’t expect Gonzalez to need much time to get back in the flow considering he’s playing his 17th NFL season.
“I think (as far as) getting him back to speed, he’s already played for 107 years in the league,” Koetter said. “I think he’ll be in pretty good shape on that. I don’t think there is a concern.”
Gonzalez, 37, said this will be his final season. Before Gonzalez decided to return for another year he and Smith came to a “mutual agreement” that Gonzalez would be excused from the team’s offseason activities and also miss time during camp.
Gonzalez was named to his 13th Pro Bowl team last season after catching 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. Gonzalez holds NFL records at his position for receptions (1,242), receiving yards (14,268), and touchdown catches (103).
Upon further review: Falcons quarterback Dominique Davis said he was "awful" against the Bengals after he completed only eight of 19 pass attempts for 78 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
But Koetter said Davis has made a lot of progress this preseason compared with his first camp a year ago. He cautioned that Davis’ performance against the Bengals should be put in context because of the lack of a game plan and the inexperienced players alongside Davis.
“’Dom got caught in some plays that weren’t the best of plays last week,” Koetter said. “Then he’s playing with some other guys might have made some mistakes that made him look bad. He made one really bad decision on the interception.”
Injury report: Falcons coach Mike Smith said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, running back Jason Snelling, fullback Bradie Ewing and linebacker Robert James will not play Thursday, but he expects them to play in the game at Tennessee.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones pulled up while running a route near the end of practice but is still expected to play Thursday. Jones missed the exhibition opener because of a hamstring injury.
More snaps for starters: Smith said he plans to play the starters for as many as five series Thursday after they played 14 snaps over three series in the exhibition opener. Smith said some younger players who are expected to start or play significant roles this season will continue to play after the veteran starters give way to backups.
In addition, Smith said some players near the end of the depth who played well late against the Bengals will enter the game earlier Thursday.
Running wild: If the Falcons were to face Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson during the regular season they would have a plan to keep him from escaping for long runs. Still, the sight of Johnson rushing for 64 yards on four carries during the exhibition opener offered a reminder of the Falcons' struggles to contain speedy quarterbacks in 2012.
Cam Newton, Colin Kapernick and Russell Wilson combined to rush for 283 yards on 27 carries (10.5 average) and four touchdowns against the Falcons last season. Newton did a lot of his damage on called runs, while Kapernick and Wilson scrambled for yards.
Johnson’s 43-yard run came when he caught the Falcons’ linebackers and defensive backs focused on coverage, and the defensive linemen didn’t contain him. The Falcons will face another capable runner, Ravens reserve quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Thursday at Baltimore.
“In the preseason you don’t really game plan as much,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “We happened to be in a man coverage (against Johnson), and you’ve got to make sure your line knows that (is the coverage) against a running quarterback because when that quarterback sees everybody gone, he is going to take off if he’s a runner. It always concerns me when we are not able to keep him in the pocket.”