Falcons ready for next step with talented offense
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)
In his second season, Julio Jones had more than 1,000 yards receiving, reached the Pro Bowl and scored two touchdowns in the NFC championship game.
So what part of his game is he looking to build on in Year 3?
''All around,'' he said. ''The coaches are doing a good job with me, just moving me around, putting me in spaces to make plays - in the backfield, in the slot, out wide, whatever the case may be, depending on who we are playing.''
Getting the ball to Jones will be a priority for the Falcons, who fell just shy of the Super Bowl last season and have as talented a group of skill-position players as any team in the NFC.
In the preseason, however, those five players have not played together, and none are expected to see the field on Thursday against the Jaguars.
Jones missed the first preseason game with hamstring issues, and White hurt his ankle early in the second preseason game.
Gonzalez missed all of training camp and the first two preseason games to spend time with his family, leaving the receiving group in flux in the preseason.
But this is the third season White, Jones, Gonzalez and third receiver Harry Douglas have been catching passes from Ryan, so the chemistry should be there once the season starts against the Saints on Sept. 8.
''It's really not that hard,'' Jones said. ''I just go out and do my thing. Everybody is moving around and learning the offense. We don't want the defense to be able to key on one guy.''
Jones feels playing only parts of two preseason games, assuming he sits out Thursday, is sufficient to prepare him for the season.
''It is enough. The coaches do a great job coming out here and getting our conditioning in,'' Jones said. ''However much work the coaches feel like we need to get ready, that's what we'll do.''
Much has been expected of Jones since the Falcons traded five draft picks for the right to select him with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The deal was a good one for the Falcons, as Jones has progressed from 54 catches as a rookie to 79 last season.
In the NFC championship game, Jones had 11 catches and a career-high 182 yards in addition to his two touchdowns against the 49ers.
That game ended in a 28-24 loss, and the Falcons are ready to get 2013 started.
But Jones stuck to the script on Tuesday, saying you cannot look to the regular season until the preseason is over.
''NFL is one game at a time,'' he said. ''You can never look forward, because that's how you get beat. You don't want to start that habit.''
Notes: Asante Samuel, Stephen Nicholas and Roddy White missed practice on Tuesday. ... The Falcons are 1-10 in the past three preseasons, and 36-12 in the past three regular seasons. ... Coach Mike Smith said one of the final battles for a roster spot is at linebacker, where Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu are competing and both figure to see a lot of action against the Jaguars. ... A top play from practice was a Julio Jones stop-and-go pass from Matt Ryan that beat rookie defensive back Robert Alford. Worst play was a fumbled handoff from Ryan to Stephen Jackson that Osi Umenyiora scooped up. ... Smith anticipates Matt Bryant will be healthy enough by the first game to enable the Falcons to keep just one kicker.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org