BIRDLAND — The lockout is a real bummer for the players.
But quarterback Matt Ryan is taking the bull by the horn (unlike the Hawks) and is providing the team some leadership during these turbulent times.
One of his missions is to get rookie Julio Jones up to speed. Jones, whom the Falcons traded up 21 spots to select in the NFL draft, has already been meeting with Ryan and the wide receivers.
It certainly helps that John Parker Wilson, one of Ryan’s backups, has been helping. Parker won 12 games as a senior at Alabama when Jones was a freshman.
He noted that Jones came in and learned the offense pretty fast. He said that Jones won’t have a problem learning the Falcons’ playbook, but noted that the verbiage of the play calls will be challenging.
At Alabama in 2008, Jones caught 58 passes for 924 yards and four touchdowns with Parker running the show.
“He’s gotten a lot bigger and it looks like he’s gotten a lot stronger,” Wilson said. “He was catching balls the other day, and his reach is still so amazing. It’s pretty sweet. He couldn’t run. He’s still working on his foot from when he messed that up, but he looks good. He looks really good.”
Wilson can help Ryan by telling him what routes Jones likes and what routes he runs best.
“I remember watching film when I was getting ready for the combine and everything and I probably targeted him 75 percent of the time,” Wilson said. “No lie. He’s a true professional. I think he’s the real deal.”
The Falcons paid a steep price for Jones. They gave up five picks, including next year’s first and fourth round picks. When a team gives up so much for one player, there will be some additional pressure on him. Wilson believes that Jones will handle that extra pressure well.
“I think he’ll fit in really good with our team,” Wilson said. “He’s a good, hard worker, a lot like the other personalities we have on our team. I think it’s going to work well.”
It’s no secret that Jones was added to add some explosiveness to the offense.
Will that be in the form of more deep routes and throws? Or will it be in the form of the bubble and slip screens he ran at Alabama? With his 4.3 speed, we might see him on some reverses, too.
Ryan was not exactly sure how offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey plans to integrate Jones into the offense.
“It will be interesting to see,” Ryan said. “He’s a big physical guy. I think he can do a lot of things for us. I think he’ll play a big part. . . I think he can bring some unique things.”
After a stress fracture was discovered, Jones had surgery on his left foot after the combine. He was expected to have a two month recovery period and should be close to running again soon.
Ryan can’t wait for Jones to start running so that they can start working on their timing.
“I’ll be interested to finally get to work with him and seeing the skills sets he has in terms of route running,” Ryan said. “Once we kind of find out about that I think we’ll know more about how we are going to use him.”
Julio, go deep!
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog