Jones is not only Atlanta’s star receiver, he’s a mentor
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — It was just another routine throw in practice, a rookie quarterback tossing the ball to a rookie receiver.
When the two failed to connect, Julio Jones stepped in.
Do it again, he ordered.
“What a pure example of what we stand for as a group,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, clearly pleased that one of the NFL’s top players would even take the time to notice. “It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. It doesn’t matter who the receiver is. What matters is getting it right.”
Jones’ leadership qualities could take on special importance this season.
Like Jones, he went to Alabama. Like Jones, he plays receiver.
The Falcons are counting on the rookie to quickly carve out a role in an offense that has plenty of weapons but needs to find ways to lure coverages away from Matt Ryan’s favorite target.
Jones is certainly doing his part of help Ridley — and, by extension, his own pass-catching prospects.
“Everybody knows Julio is really, really good,” Ridley said. “But people don’t really know how good he is. He’s so detailed in the plays. He knows everything. He’s like a coach. He coaches me on everything.”
Early in Tuesday’s practice, undrafted quarterback Kurt Benkert — a longshot to make the team — was working with Ridley on a particular route.
They haven’t gotten a lot of time together in practice, so it wasn’t all that surprising when the two were out of sync.
That wasn’t acceptable to Jones.
“Julio was like, ‘Do that one again,’” Quinn marveled. “That might’ve gone unnoticed to some people.”
Even when Ridley makes a catch in practice, he usually has Jones in his ear.
“He says, ‘You can do it better, you can lean on him, whatever it is,’” the rookie said. “It’s like having another coach on the field. He’s watching everything that all of us do.”
While Jones took some heat from fans and the media for skipping offseason workouts and a mandatory minicamp in a bid to land a new contract — he agreed to report to training camp only after the team adjusted his deal for this season and promised to renegotiate in 2019 — there is no question about the commitment to his teammates.
He shows it with his willingness to work with anyone who has a desire to get better, whether it’s a first-round pick such as Ridley or a fringe player such as Benkert.
Jones is impressed with Ridley’s work ethic and potential.
“I knew he was going to come in and be a hard worker,” said Jones, a two-time All-Pro who has gone four straight seasons with at least 80 receptions and more than 1,400 yards receiving. “He definitely has all the tools to be a great wide receiver. The game just has to come to him. Just seeing things on the move and not thinking, that’s the only thing. He’s a rookie. He’s going to have to think. He’s going to see unscouted looks, things like that. You can’t make that transition on the run.”
While Jones has enormous physical skills, he knows his success as a receiver goes beyond his speed, size and hands. He keeps telling the rookie to pay attention to what’s going on around him.
The eyes might be the most important attribute of all.
“Watching safeties,” Jones said. “Watching what people are trying to take away. Different concepts. Knowing what he can and cannot do on a route to help his teammates.”
To give all the rookies an idea of what they’re up against in Friday’s first preseason game against the New York Jets, Jones showed a tape of his very first exhibition contest against the Miami Dolphins in 2011.
“We have a great group of young receivers on our team,” he said. “But it’s going to get blurry out there. You’re out there at full speed, and you don’t know what to expect. I told ’em, ‘Just do what you do. Do what got you here. You don’t have to go out there and make up things. The game will come to you.’”
Someone asked Jones for a critique of that younger version of himself.
“I was flying around,” he said, breaking into a big grin. Just as quickly, he turned it into another teaching moment. “If you’re a young guy, you don’t want to bust a play and start looking around. If you bust it, go full speed. You’ll get the next one.”
Notes: Longtime Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed attended practice Tuesday at Quinn’s invitation. In particular, the Falcons coach wanted Reed to stress the importance to creating turnovers. “One the best ball hawks of all time,” Quinn said. “It was important for him to spend some time with the DBs.”