TAMPA — As Tony Gonzalez walked off the field Monday night at the Louisiana Superdome, a certain rising young star stopped him to ask what everyone wants to know.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham, named to the Pro Bowl this week in just his second season, had to ask Gonzalez: What's his secret?
"I get that question a lot," said Gonzalez, the Falcons tight end and likely Hall of Famer who plays the Bucs on Sunday.
"It's not really something I can sum up in a few words. I guess, to put it simply, it's hard work, perseverance (and) you have to have to mind-set of total conviction and a passion for the game.
"And you have to kind of be obsessed. It's borderline crazy. Not everybody can do it. Most people can't do it. You have to be obsessed with being the best player you can be. That means you're going to put in a lot more work than the next guy. That means before practice, during practice, after practice. There's really no offseason."
The Bucs can attest. Gonzalez has been a matchup nightmare for Tampa Bay, which has opted to use CB Ronde Barber, also a 15-year veteran, against him.
Gonzalez, 35, and Barber, 36, share a mutual admiration.
"We came in (to the league) together, so obviously we've had a chance to go against each other a lot," Gonzalez said of Barber. "I respect him so much because, when you talk about perseverance and being able to stick around and play at such a level like he does for a long time, obviously I know firsthand how hard it is.
"It's not an easy thing to do. It has little to do with athletic ability. It has more to do with mind-set, and I really respect him for that. He's always in the right place at the right time. You're looking at the film and you say, 'How did he make that play?' It's probably not even in their defensive package. But he saw something and hit the hole and made the play. It's results, and this guy gets results. It's a privilege to go against someone like him."
The Bucs have had mixed results against Gonzalez. He had just two catches for 18 yards in the first meeting this season. But he had an eight-catch, 72-yard performance last season and caught nine passes for 83 yards in a meeting in 2009.
TRUEBLOOD OUT: Jeremy Trueblood's season is over, with the veteran right tackle ruled out for Sunday after a concussion.
According to Bucs coach Raheem Morris, Trueblood will be replaced in the lineup by James Lee, a player who becomes a free agent in the offseason but gets a final chance to impress his current team. Lee has been slowed by injuries this season, one year after he replaced Trueblood down the stretch of a 10-6 season.
The Bucs also might take a look at Demar Dotson at right tackle, Morris said. He has played extensively as a tight end in two-tight end, short-yardage situations, but he hasn't played much as a tackle.
injury updates: WR Arrelious Benn is questionable after not practicing this week because of a neck injury. DT Albert Haynesworth (knee) also missed practice and is questionable. He missed last week's game at Carolina, as did DT Brian Price (ankle). Morris said Price was improving and had a chance to play after practicing Friday.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @BucsBeat.