Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez returned to training camp Sunday after taking three weeks off to spend time with his family in California.
It’s unusual and likely unprecedented for a healthy player to miss so much of camp. Coach Mike Smith said that before granting Gonzalez the time off, he considered the perception the special treatment for Gonzalez could create among the rest of the players.
Smith said he decided that Gonzalez’s accomplishments warrant the arrangement, which was agreed to before Gonzalez decided to return for a 17th NFL season.
“Any player that I coached that goes to (13) Pro Bowls and has a situation with his family that forces him to miss time, I’ll gladly do it for him,” Smith said. “I think our players understand that.”
Gonzalez’s family situation wasn’t an emergency; he said he wanted to be with his son as the youth started his first season of football. It’s a promise Gonzalez said he made when he returned to play in 2012, so he worked out an agreement with Smith that allowed him to still do it while returning for what he says will be his last season.
Gonzalez declined to address news media Sunday.
Gonzalez participated in the first two days of camp before departing for California. He missed 14 full practice sessions and two exhibition games. Smith also excused Gonzalez from all offseason team activities.
Gonzalez didn’t ease his way back into practice as quarterback Matt Ryan targeted him frequently during passing drills.
“I thought he was fresh and I loved it,” Falcons center Peter Konz said. “He was on point. He didn’t miss a beat. I think he’s ready. Obviously he’s been doing this for 16, 17 years.”
Gonzalez was named to his 13th Pro Bowl team in 2012, when he had 93 receptions 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).
Injury report: Smith said outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who suffered a leg injury during practice Saturday, won’t play in Saturday’s exhibition game at Tennessee but would be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
Running back Jason Snelling returned to practice Sunday after a hamstring injury forced him to miss practice time as well as the exhibition game Thursday at Baltimore. He said he’s cleared to play without limitations and maintained his conditioning while sidelined.
“It felt good,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
Smith said fullback Bradie Ewing and linebacker Robert James are set to return to practice from injuries on Tuesday and play on Saturday. Wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) is out.
Breaking camp: Sunday was the last official day of training camp for the Falcons. That doesn’t mean much in real terms because there are two exhibition games remaining but the team will change its routine.
Starting Tuesday the team’s practice plan will be more like the regular season, with scout teams simulating the opponent and coaches breaking down video of the Titans to develop a game plan. The starters are scheduled to play into the third quarter.
“Camp is over in one sense but it’s not,” Smith said. “We still have two more weeks before we get to our regular season first game, and we still have a bunch of evaluations to make.”