The point is, BC fans will miss him. Whenever he caught a pass or lined up a kickoff, the crowd instinctively rose to their feet. He had the potential to turn any catch – any return – into a touchdown. Blackmon was one of those rare players who had free reign to dance all around the field and completely disregard his assignment (he could start running backwards, for crying out loud) and it wouldn't matter: Everyone knew he would turn it into something.
Can Tony Gonzalez do that? No. Mostly because he won't get the chance. For all the talent and experience he has, Gonzalez isn't Will Blackmon, and everyone from Tom O'Brien to Tom the mailman knows it. Anyone caught running backwards to find a hole on this team will see the bench.
But Gonzalez is a pure receiver. While Blackmon could catch a short one and improvise the rest, Gonzalez is scripted. Gonzalez will run his route to perfection and, if Matt Ryan wants him somewhere, he'll be there (Wake Forest game, anyone?). That's what will make Gonzalez the number-one receiver in 2006. He's dependable, he's clutch (at Notre Dame, anyone?), and he has the catching ability and the speed to be Ryan's go-to-guy for the whole season.
"I'm a lot more aware that I need to do a lot correct," Gonzalez said while discussing his role as the veteran of the receiving corps. "Not only do it myself but help the other guys and make sure that things are being done right."
The "other guys." That's the million-dollar question for 2006: Who, besides Gonzalez, can be a dependable receiver every game for Matt Ryan? Will it be Kevin Challenger, who only has 18 career receptions? It seems Challenger is capable. We've seen him make big-time catches (again: Wake Forest, anyone?), but it could be a tough transition from being a number-four-on-the-depth-chart, "just-trying-to-make-a-name-for-myself" sophomore to being a "holy-crap-I'm-a-major-contributor-on-an-ACC-team" junior.
That's where a good quarterback truly shines. One who has confidence in anyone who is willing to make a catch. One who will throw it to whoever is open. Luckily, the Eagles have such a quarterback. Ryan won't pick favorites. If Gonzalez or Challenger is open, he'll get it. If Brandon Robinson, who has Blackmon-like open-field ability, is streaking over the middle, he'll get it. If it's third down and a chain-move is five yards away, a tight-end will get it.
Which tight-end, you ask? Probably Ryan Thompson. He's been lining up as a first-teamer in practice. Thompson saw time in every game last season as a sophomore and seemingly has beat out three others for the starting job. Sophomore Ryan Purvis appears to be next in line, while junior Trey Koziol, fresh off a season-long knee injury, will have to fight for playing time. The Eagles seem to be deep at the position, which includes Vanderbilt transfer Jonathan Loyte, making the Jordan McMichael decision an interesting one. With prototypical BC tight-ends ahead of him, the freshman receiver-in-a-tight-end's-body will most likely have to wait a year before the offense is ready to integrate such a unique player into the system.
The beauty of the Matt Ryan offense is that no receiver is off-limits. Gonzalez will be the one with the most receptions and yards when all is said and done. He's the most reliable, he's the most experienced, and he'll be the centerpiece of most of the passing plays. He's not Will Blackmon, but who is? Plenty of others will see the ball and plenty of others will show that they, too, are able to make plays. And who knows? If Robinson sees the ball enough, maybe we will have another Will Blackmon.