FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. More than the shorn locks that gave him a new offseason look, Julio Jones performance in the Falcons first preseason game last Thursday against Baltimore certainly created a buzz.
In one quarter, the 6-foot-3 Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown totals that have not gone unnoticed. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column this week, Sports Illustrateds Peter King wrote 5,000 yards would be very realistic for quarterback Matt Ryan to reach in passing yards this year. Of course, Jones would be a big part of that. In addition, local sports talk radio ate it up, with commentators noting that that effort was more of what fans expected to see last season.
Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, a four-time Pro-Bowler who led the NFL in targets in 2011, said he has told the coaching staff he doesnt want to be thrown to as much this season. That should create more opportunity for Jones, whom White said he knows the fans appreciate.
They should get excited, White said. Hes going to be important to us. Were going to need him throughout the whole season, through all 16 games, so we got to just continue -- hes got to continue to be who he is, be big, be explosive, make big plays down the field and well be fine.
For its part, the Falcons coaching staff is doing its best to keep things in perspective on the wide receiver whom the Falcons gave up so many draft picks to move up from No. 27 last year to No. 6 and select out of Alabama.
It was a great start last week and, again, we want to reiterate it, it was just a start, head coach Mike Smith said. That was one quarter of football for our football team But were very pleased with the start that Julio had in the game last week in the game against the Ravens.
So far in his brief NFL career, Jones has not shown any diva-type qualities associated with wide receivers. Falcons wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie offered a reason why as to why Jones needs to remain humble.
Well, Julios only got 59 catches for his career, Robiskie said, though the number is actually 54. He cant be a diva yet. You gotta do something before you can be a diva. Maybe when he has that one year that he catches 100 balls and 15 touchdowns, then Ill have a bigger headache on my hands. For right now, with his little 59 catches and not even 1,000 yards, he cant be a diva yet.
Jones had a solid rookie season but why last Thursdays game gives reason for optimism is that it was his first appearance in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetters system. Fans got a tantalizing taste. Yet, in a way, preseason football mirrors the Bizarro World instead of game-planning to neutralize an opponents strength, teams do the opposite, purposely putting a player in a stressful situation to see how he copes.
Robiskie said that with all of the man-to-man coverage that the Ravens employed against the Falcons first team last week, that dynamic could have been at work by Baltimores defense.
I think we all do that, said Robiskie, who has coached in the NFL every season since 1982. We all get to the point where we may put a guy in a predicament, put him in a situation in the preseason that you wouldnt put him in the regular season. This time of year from a defensive standpoint, most teams and organizations and certainly most defensive coordinators might say, Hey, I want to see if you can cover and I want to see if you can play somebody man-to-man
And, hey, any time youre going to experiment with it, you better do it in the preseason. I think that certainly was the case with Baltimore.
Regardless, if Jones keeps showing that he can play the way he did against the Ravens against one-on-one coverage, opponents will have some hard choices to make. That was the whole point in drafting him. However, it didnt work out the way it was intended last year even though he had a productive season with 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. Scapegoats varied from the lockout (no offseason to learn the offense), offseason foot surgery, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkeys reluctance to throw deep, offensive line coach Paul Boudreaus inability to get his unit to pass protect and left tackle Sam Baker and right guard Garrett Reynolds struggles.
The Falcons dont have any of those to blame this time around except for Baker and Reynolds, both of whom lost their starting jobs for varying reasons last season but, for now, both find themselves back in the jobs they started 11 with.
I certainly hope as he keeps going and puts that pressure on people, obviously, hell draw a little more attention to him and itll give us more opportunities to run the ball, of course, with Michael Turner and to do things with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez and try to keep all them guys going, Robiskie said. Of course, I think thats why we brought Julio here. Thats why we drafted him
In our mind, he can do one of two things: Somebody can put him on the backside by his self and he could create havoc for people and at the same time people will say, We cant leave that guy one-on-one. Lets double him. So if its two guys on him, then Roddys somewhere else. Thats what Julio was brought here for. He was brought here to win those one-on-one battles and to try to help them to our advantage. I think this game (against Baltimore), obviously, it showed. Hopefully, it carries over into the regular season.
Said Jones of last weeks showing: Weve been working during OTAs, plus the offseason; this is kind of my first offseason and OTAs. But just being able to go out there and connect like that was a really good feeling.
On Thursday, Falcons fans will get their first chance to see Jones line up in the same game as former University of Georgia star A.J. Green. The Falcons reportedly tried to get Green when they moved up in the draft and picked Jones, but the Bengals demanded too high of a price, so Atlanta settled on Jones instead. Green also had an excellent rookie season, though not much more productive than Jones: 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns on 65 catches in 15 games while Jones played in 13.
The two receivers, as they both played in the Southeastern Conference and were drafted so closely together, are likely to be compared for the rest of their careers. Smith was asked about that, but mostly side-stepped it, saying, We feel very good about what Julio has added to our offensive football team.
Robiskie said Jones biggest challenge this season will be to focus on a weekly basis. He used the analogy of college, with Jones getting up for Alabama-LSU but perhaps not Alabama-Troy.
Hes got to understand, basically for him, every Sunday is Alabama vs. LSU. There is no Troy, Robiskie said. . Hes got to stay focused with the understanding that that defensive coordinator is going to have something for me.
Aint no easy week.