Best of the bunch
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has more career receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns than any other tight end in NFL history. Here's a look at the top five tight ends.
1. Tony Gonzalez: 11,155 yards, 1997-present
2. Shannon Sharpe: 10,060 yards, 1990-2003
3. Ozzie Newsome: 7,980 yards, 1978-90
4. Jackie Smith: 7,918 yards, 1963-78
5. Kellen Winslow: 6,741 yards, 1979-87
LAKE FOREST – Bears safety Al Afalava was 10 years old when a promising tight end named Tony Gonzalez caught his first pass for the Kansas City Chiefs.
More than 13 years, 11,155 receiving yards and 78 touchdowns later, Gonzalez has established himself as the one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game. The Bears will try to contain him Sunday when they face the Atlanta Falcons, who acquired Gonzalez for a second-round draft pick this spring.
“It’s going to be a big test,” said Afalava, who has 20 tackles in his first four games. “Coach has said, ‘Get ready, it’s probably one of the better tight ends we’re going to face.’ ”
Gonzalez, 33, is the NFL’s all-time leader among tight ends in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, 251-pound former college basketball power forward at Cal has been selected to 10 Pro Bowls, and caught at least 50 passes in 11 consecutive seasons.
In his first four games with the Falcons, Gonzalez has 215 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“Longevity is the key to a great player,” Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “A lot of guys come into the league and play well for a year or two. What he’s been able to do year after year is just incredible.”
Bears tight end Greg Olsen said Gonzalez was a model for how the position could be played.
“As a young tight end coming up for the last 10, 12 years, he’s been the main guy,” said Olsen, 24. “He’s been consistent. He’s done a great job everywhere he’s been. … I think most young guys in the position would probably recognize him as one of the top guys that they’ve followed over the years.”
Gonzalez managed to transform the tight end position off the field, as well. He signed a five-year contract with Kansas City in 2007 that included $17 million in guaranteed money.
“He raised the pay scale,” Bears tight end Desmond Clark said. “He was like the first one to get that receiver type money, so that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
Former Denver Broncos player Shannon Sharpe is the only tight end besides Gonzalez with more than 10,000 career receiving yards.
“[Gonzalez] kind of fell behind in Shannon Sharpe’s footsteps,” Clark said, “and just elevated that little bit to where a tight end could be a primary receiver in this age of the game. I think Shannon Sharpe came through and did it first, and he just took it to another level.”
On Sunday, the job of defending Gonzalez likely will be split between the Bears’ linebackers and safeties. Gonzalez's size and speed poses a threat in the deep middle part of the field.
“If you’re matching up man-wise, you have to be careful who you put on him,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Sometimes you’ll even have to match up one of your better defensive backs against a player like that. We have a lot of different options, but our linebackers are pretty athletic."
Afalava said he also expected to defend the future Hall of Famer.
“I always watched him as a kid growing up, and look here, I’m playing against him,” Afalava said. “I’ve just got to bring my A game. The top of my A game.”
Bears bits: Adrian Peterson (knee) and Hunter Hillenmeyer (rib) were listed as doubtful to play against the Falcons. … Israel Idonije (knee) was listed as questionable, but he said he expected to play. … Anthony Adams (toe) and Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) also were listed as questionable, but both expect to play.