Falcons being extra cautious to protect Julio Jones’ health
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — There will be no leaping sideline catches, no end zone fade routes, no over-the-middle patterns for Julio Jones this preseason.
Fans hoping to see Jones in the Atlanta Falcons’ final two preseason games, including Saturday’s game at Jacksonville, better arrive early for pregame warmups. After that, the wide receiver will be a sideline observer.
Jones is feeling great, and coach Dan Quinn is trying to make sure that doesn’t change before the regular season. Barring a change of plans, Jones also will be held out of Atlanta’s final preseason game against Miami next week.
Jones said Wednesday he supports Quinn’s plan. He said he’ll be prepared for real games despite having no game-speed preparation in the preseason.
“I’m going to be ready to go,” Jones said. “I’m getting plenty of reps and things like that in practice. I’m going against some great guys.”
It’s not unusual for a key starter to have only limited exposure in the preseason. It was notable, however, when Quinn said Tuesday he plans to hold out Jones the full preseason.
Jones’ value to the team makes Quinn’s strategy easy to understand.
A two-time All-Pro, Jones is one of only two players in NFL history to have at least 80 catches and 1,400 yards receiving in four straight seasons. He can break that tie with Marvin Harrison this season.
Despite having to play through a long series of nagging injuries, Jones had 88 catches for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns in 2017.
Jones, 29, reported on time for the start of training camp last month after missing the mandatory minicamp. While his effort to have his five-year, $71.5 million contract reworked was the big story, he privately told Quinn he always planned to report for training camp and his holdout from minicamp “was just me getting healthy.”
He had minor surgery on his left foot after the 2016 season and then had two ankle injuries as well as back, ribs, thumb and knee injuries last season.
A healthy has been important for Atlanta’s offense and defense in training camp. Trying to defend Jones is ideal practice for the Falcons’ defensive backs.
“When you see him really at his best heading into this training camp, healthier and more explosive based on the training he did in the offseason, it’s been good not just for the team but for the guys he’s going to compete against,” Quinn said Wednesday. ”... Those are matchups that you really need.”
Quinn also is holding running back Devonta Freeman out of all preseason action. Freeman had two concussions last year, including one last preseason, and battled a minor knee injury late in the season.
“Now since it’s no contact for me, I’m just trying to work on other things in my game so I can get better and then when the game comes around I’ll be ready,” Freeman said Wednesday.
Freeman grinned when asked about having Jones practicing at full-speed, free from last year’s injuries.
“You know Julio is Julio,” he said. “Julio is one of those guys who is like a freak of nature. His talent, I feel like the sky is the limit for him. He can do a lot of things great. As big as he is, he can move. It’s like anything you want from a wide receiver, Julio Jones I feel has got everything you need.”