Rather than sulk about the loss of his good friend Gonzalez to retirement, Ryan looked ahead to another year of growth by second-year tight end Levine Toilolo.
"Obviously, you're not going to replace Tony," Ryan said Tuesday. "I mean, it's not going to happen. And that's no slight. It didn't matter who walks in that door. You're just not going to be able to do that. And that's OK.
"We don't need [Toilolo] to be Tony. We need him to be the best Levine Toilolo that he can be."
Toilolo, a former fourth-round pick from Stanford, had just 11 catches for 55 yards with two touchdowns as a rookie in spot duty behind Gonzalez. But Gonzalez's limited practice time during the 2013 campaign -- primarily due to a toe injury -- allowed Toilolo to get plenty of first-team reps in practice.
Ryan discussed continuing to develop a chemistry with the young tight end.
"Just the open dialogue between myself and Levine, talking about certain things," Ryan said. "Talking about my vision for some of the things I think he does well, and some of the things are different from what Tony did. I think that position will probably look a little bit different for us."
Toilolo previously acknowledged how he studied Gonzalez's work habits and had hoped to carry the same approach to the game. At 6-foot-8, there's no disputing his capabilities as a red-zone target. But Toilolo understands he needs to refine some aspects of his game, particularly blocking.
In terms of the tight end position as a whole, the Falcons could move away from making it a focal point of the offense, with more emphasis on the wide receivers, particularly with Julio Jones coming back and Roddy White a lot healthier than he was last season.
The Falcons still have gotten a close look at some tight end prospects, including Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Georgia's Arthur Lynch. But it doesn't appear as if they're approaching the draft with the mindset of securing a starting tight end.
Toilolo should get plenty of opportunity to secure the starting the job. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Mickey Shuler gets a shot to contribute as well.
Ryan noted how Toilolo's physical makeup has changed for the better.
"I think Levine looks as good as he has since he's been here," Ryan said. "I think he's put on a little bit of weight, put some weight in the right spot, which has been good. But there's going to be a lot of work between he and I on the practice field and off the practice field.
"Some of that started last year. Tony didn't pratice all the time, which he didn't need to. Trust me. But with that said, I got to get a lot of work with Levine in practice situations during training camp last year. And I think that helped him have success in his rookie year. And I think that's going to help us heading into Year 2. We're so much further along then we were at the beginning of training camp last year, so I'm fired up about that."