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Palmer enjoying opportunity with Falcons

ATLANTA -- Nikki Gonzalez, like many Falcons fans, obviously wasn't familiar with Michael Palmer.

"Who's that?" asked the 9-year-old after overhearing his father share a few words with the player dressing two stalls away in the Atlanta locker room Sunday at Georgia Dome.

"That's our young tight end," Tony Gonzalez told his son, not giving a name but passing on the pertinent information everyone needs to know.

All-Pro veteran Gonzales, 34, is the first NFL tight end to reach 1,000 catches in his career.

Palmer, 22, could be the Falcons' future at the position.

"It's all so surreal," the Parkview graduate said. "I still really can't believe it. It's very cool just to be putting on a Falcons jersey."

Palmer beat the odds to do it. He wasn't drafted in April despite having caught 43 passes during a breakout senior season at Clemson.

"It was very disappointing," he said. "But you have to get over your disappointment in a hurry."

The Falcons offered Palmer a contract as a free agent and he took it. A long shot to make the team, he earned his spot with hard work.

"The way it worked out couldn't be better," Palmer said. "I'm playing in the NFL and it's with the team I grew up rooting for and watching play. That's what makes it extra special for me."

The Falcons signed 13 undrafted players. Palmer was the only one to make the team.

Palmer made his NFL debut in Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, but the moment he was really waiting for came Sunday. He got to play a home game as a Falcon before nearly two dozen family members and friends.

"That I was on the field for the opening kickoff made it extra special," Palmer said. "It was definitely a thrill."

So far, Palmer's playing time has been mostly limited to special teams, where he is a blocker on kickoff and punt returns. He replaced Gonzalez during the Falcons' last two possessions in Sunday's 41-7 rout of Arizona, but there were no passes thrown as Atlanta ran out the clock.

"I'm still waiting for a ball to come my way," Palmer said. "If I get the opportunity, I'll be ready."

At 6-foot-5, Palmer showed he could grab them in exhibition games. His 10 catches led the Falcons during the preseason.

Although Atlanta often uses two tight ends, Palmer plays behind Jason Peelle as well as Gonzalez.

Peelle is 31, though, meaning that it might not be many years before there is a major changing of the depth chart at tight end.

Palmer grew up a "big, big Falcons fan" and said he'll always remember "doing the Dirty Bird and watching the Falcons go to the Super Bowl" in 1998.

But when it came to choosing the team to sign with, Palmer said that he had "to take that out of the equation."

For Palmer, he was all about trying to find the right situation.

"The Falcons obviously have a great tight end and a real good backup," Palmer said. "But I knew that they like young players and the NFL is all about waiting your turn. Here I get to watch the best and learn. Hopefully, my chance will come."

Palmer says that just being around Gonzalez is a learning experience.

"Tony's been great," Palmer said.

"I can't say enough good things about him. You can learn so much just watching him and picking his brain a little bit. He's the ultimate pro with the way he handles himself on and off the field. It's great to kinda just stand in the shadows and watch his every move."

Someday, Palmer hopes that he will be the one catching those key passes. But for now, his role is much less glamorous. Blocking on the return teams basically goes unnoticed unless you commit a penalty.

"He's a learning curve, but slowly and surely I'm getting it," Palmer said. "It's new to me."

For Palmer, though, there are no regrets about the way anything has gone.

"It was very disappointing not getting drafted," Palmer said.

"But it's definitely worked out the best for me."

Curran inactive Sunday

Former Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, who had made his NFL debut the week before against Oakland, was inactive for Tennessee's 16-11 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The Brookwood graduate was in on seven tackles for the Titans during the preseason, all in the first two games. He was bothered by a sore hamstring at the end of the preseason.

Curran was drafted in the third round by Tennessee after skipping his senior season at Georgia and declaring early for the draft.

Tennessee tight end Jared Cook, who played at North Gwinnett and South Carolina, had one catch for 5 yards against the Steelers. The third-round choice in 2009 led Tennessee with eight catches for 132 yards in the preseason.