Falcons rookie tight end Levine Toilolo, at 6-foot-8, towered over the rest of the players on hand for the final day of the team’s rookie minicamp on Sunday.
“He’s hard to miss out there,” Falcons coach Mike Smith quipped.
Toilolo (pronounced: Toy-lo-lo) was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford. He’s the first player taken from the school by the Falcons since they drafted Bob Whitfield in 1992.
Toilolo performed well during the rookie minicamp.
“He did a nice job improving in his understanding and his route running,” Smith said. “I thought he caught the ball well.”
Toilolo, a native of San Diego, was considered Stanford’s top tight end early in his career over Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz, but they moved ahead of him after a knee injury inthe first game cost him the 2010 season. Fleener was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Colts and Ertz went to the Eagles in the second round of the 2013 draft.
Toilolo started 14 games for the Cardinal last season. He led all Stanford receivers with 16.4-yards-per-catch average and was a force in the red zone. He scored four touchdowns and had five receptions inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
The Falcons view Toilolo as more than just a blocking tight end.
“It’s going to be fun to watch him be mentored by Tony Gonzalez when Tony gets in here,” Smith said. “When you are that size, everybody wants to categorize you as a good blocker. Obviously, his efficiency in the red zone is well documented. When you throw the ball to a guy in the red zone, you want to make sure that he’s going to catch the ball. I think that kind of says what kind of hands that he has.”
Toilolo has an athletic family. In addition to his three uncles — Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave’a — who played in the NFL, he has four cousins who played college football (two), basketball and volleyball.
“Athletics has always been a big part of life with my family growing up,” Toilolo said. “With school, they kind of go hand in hand. In order to get on the field or get on the court, my parents always stressed putting the same amount of effort into school.”
Toilolo and Andrew Szczerba were the only tight ends at the rookie minicamp. He’s looking forward to working with Gonzalez.
“As a tight end, I don’t think there is a better situation for me to be going into than with this organization,” Toilolo said. “To come in and have a guy like Tony Gonzalez, who’s definitely going to be a future Hall of Famer and arguably the best tight end to ever play the game. As a young tight end, I feel like I kind of have a (leg) up on the rest of the guys in the draft.”
Toilolo wants to learn some of the tricks of the trade from Gonzalez, who flirted with retiring before deciding to come back for one more season.
“I’m just going to ask him as many questions as I can and try to see what he’s learned over his career,” Toilolo said. “I’m sure there are a lot of things that he knows that you can’t get from a coach. I’m definitely excited.
“He’s someone that I’ve watched throughout my career growing up. Just to be able to sit in the same meeting room and learn along with him, I’m looking forward to it.”
Before attending the minicamp, he received some advice from his uncles.
“They just keep saying, ‘keep doing what you’re doing,’” Toilolo said. “Working hard has helped me up to this point. They said don’t’ really change anything about that, but at the same time they kind of touched on the business aspects of it. The difference between going from college to the NFL is that it’s a job now.”
Toilolo ran fluidly and appeared to make several nice cuts on his routes during the minicamp. He’s comfortable with his long and lean frame.
“I think my size, with my athletic ability is definitely unique,” Toilolo said. “I think that provides mismatches against defenders whether if it is linebackers or defensive backs. I’ll either have a size advantage or a speed advantage over whoever guards me.”
He takes pride in his blocking.
“I’m someone who’s more than willing to put my hand down and get after guys in the run game as well,” Toilolo said.