INDIANAPOLIS - There is no question in Mike Smith's mind that Tony Gonzalez can still play. Will he still play is another matter.
Gonzalez said prior to the start of last season that 2012 would be the final year in his historic career. The legendary tight end's stance may have softened a bit, since the Falcons ended their season with a tough loss in the NFC Championship. Smith has spoken with Gonzalez since then. The coach declined to comment on the specifics of that conversation, but will be speaking with him again "sooner rather than later" to get a better idea about his plans for 2013.
"The skill set that Tony Gonzalez has is the standard that most teams are looking for in a tight end," Smith said, noting his tight end's ability to line up wide, in the slot, playing the traditional in-line role and everything in between.
Forget the read option, which Smith said "could" be the future of the NFL; it's that skill set made famous by Gonzalez that is changing the NFL in Smith's eyes. Trotting out the usual chess match analogy, Smith went one step further noting that the tight end was "becoming the queen" of the gridiron because of an offense's ability to move that player all over the field and create mismatches.
Smith played it closer to the vest when asked to respond to reports that the Falcons would release running back Michael Turner. He declined to comment directly on the report, but didn't go out of his way to deny it.
"This time of year there's tough decisions that have to be made," Smith replied. "Michael's under contract right now and we'll continue to go through the process in terms of how we're going to recalibrate [the roster]."
Turner, who turned 31 earlier this month, would cost the Falcons $6.9 million this year, a hefty charge for a running back that ran for a career-low 3.6 yards per carry last season.
The Falcons coach updated the press on the statuses of Matt Ryan and Brent Grimes as well. Smith said that his quarterback's shoulder was "fine." Ryan is out of rehab and expected to be ready for offseason workouts.
Grimes is still recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in the opening week of the 2012 season. Smith declined to comment on whether or not the Falcons would use the franchise tag for the second year in a row to hold onto the cornerback.
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