FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith believes Julio Jones’ even temperament will be a big asset in the rookie’s preseason debut.
Though the Georgia Dome will be loud when the Falcons face Miami tonight, Smith wants the NFL’s No. 6 overall draft pick and other Atlanta newcomers to follow the coaching staff’s edict — work within the scheme and try not to do anything spectacular.
“I think those guys are getting excited, but we’ve got to keep it at the task at hand, and that’s to make sure we go out and execute and don’t go crazy,” Smith said this week. “Execute our scheme and not try to make plays. The plays will come, and that’s what the young guys are going to try to do.”
Jones knows it’s critical that he treat the preseason opener as nothing more than a live practice against the Dolphins. He needs to extend the intensity he’s shown in training camp but not to exceed his role.
“I’m pretty good with everything right now, but I want to be great at it,” Jones said Wednesday. “I still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Working on a high school field during the NFL lockout helped Jones establish a rapport with quarterback Matt Ryan. When camp started and the Falcons released starting receiver Michael Jenkins, Jones was an instant starter.
Ryan appreciates Jones’ eagerness to study film and work precisely in practice shows a maturity level that’s missing from some rookies with great skills. But in a passing scheme that relies a lot on play-action, Ryan needs Jones to follow the lead of receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, a pair of Pro Bowl targets who rarely miss assignments in games.
“Julio has a great understanding of how to run routes and how to get open, but in our offense you’ve got to be in the right spot at the right time,” Ryan said. “So I think that’s kind of been the biggest thing for him is understanding route depths, the landmarks on the field and how to get to those in the right amount of time. It takes a little bit of time to learn that. It really does, but he’s probably picked it up as fast as anybody I’ve been around.”
Jones understands that he’s no different from other rookies trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Now that he’s no longer lined up against college cornerbacks, Jones knows it will be difficult at times to do his job.
“Everything’s all about timing here,” Jones said. “The ball is out Matt’s hands before I break out, and it’s going to be there every time. If I slip and fall, it might be an interception or something, so it’s very critical.”
Smith is grateful that Ryan and Jones worked together during the lockout, on the field during 7-on-7 drills and at Ryan’s house afterward to discuss what they practiced and what they need to accomplish.
“I thought they did a very good job, hearing when they got back here, what they were able to accomplish and what they were able to get installed,” Smith said. “Julio got that time with Matt, and I think that’s a plus because in some situations across the league, a quarterback might not have had an opportunity to work as much as those two guys have worked.”
Jones, whose Alabama career began in a season-opening game at the Georgia Dome, does plan to take a quick moment tonight and soak in the feel of his first time in an NFL uniform.
“You know, we want to win,” Jones said. “We’re just going to go out there and play fast and just do what we’ve been doing the whole time.”