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Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo catching on in third season

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There was no need for Levine Toilolo to go back and dissect each one of his four drops from last season. The third-year Atlanta Falcons tight end knew what went wrong even before any coach pointed it out on film.

"I mean, little things: taking my eyes off the ball and trying to get up the field before you secure the catch," said Toilolo, who had three drops alone in a loss to the Chicago Bears. "It's simple things like that. This offseason, I tried to get back to the basics. It's really just pitch and catch out there."

Yes, Toilolo has made it look easy with an impressive training camp. Then in last Friday's 31-24 preseason win over Tennessee, he made the most of his opportunities with three catches for 36 yards. His grab down the sideline from T.J. Yates even inspired resting starting quarterback Matt Ryan to run over and pull Toilolo from the ground in celebratory fashion.

Tight ends coach Wade Harman, who was the Falcons' assistant offensive line coach last season, notices a remarkable difference in Toilolo's play.

"I think he's got a little more confidence going," Harman said. "I know he lost some confidence last year on a couple of balls in there. I know he spent a lot of time in the offseason just working on his hands and just being confident that he can do it. I think it's him just having a little more confidence in himself and his ability."

Toilolo learned behind legend Tony Gonzalez as a rookie in 2013. Then last year as the starter in all 16 games, Toilolo's biggest claim to fame was filling in at right tackle due to a slew of injuries along the offensive line.

The Falcons obviously weren't content with what they had at tight end, which is why they signed established pass-catcher Jacob Tamme along with pass-blocker Tony Moeaki. It left Toilolo as the third tight end in certain sets during practice, but it didn't mean he would be squeezed out of the tight end picture completely.

In fact, Falcons coach Dan Quinn singled out Toilolo for his blocking during one training camp practice. Then the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Toilolo started to make every catch within reach, earning notice from the coaches, players and fans alike.

"For me, it's just trying to change the mindset of just being here to compete," Toilolo said. "Every ball that's up there, you're obviously trying to make a play. I think for me, I'm just trying to relax and get back to playing football.

"The whole tight end group has done a good job of pushing one another. You see one guy make a play and it makes you want to work that much harder. When you get your opportunity, you want to make sure you take advantage of it."

Toilolo also soaked in some sound advice from Harman.

"Coach Harman does a good job of every day reminding me to play big," Toilolo said. "He says, 'You have this frame; make sure you use it. When the ball is out there, don't just concentrate on catching it, but attack it and go get it.' That's definitely helped me."

Harman believes there's a place for Toilolo in Kyle Shanahan's offense even despite the additions of Tamme and Moeaki.

"No question: You can't have enough good tight ends," Harman said. "As a tight ends coach, you love as many as you can to get out there on the field. If we can get in 13 personnel (1 back, 3 tight ends, 1 receiver) -- get all of them out there, if you can. If they're multifaceted and have that ability to do different things, and if you can get them on the field and they can run block and catch passes, they give you a lot of versatility."