The name of Julio Jones has been uttered countless times during the offseason when the topic of the Atlanta Falcons comes up. It is for good reason however, and after an offseason of OTAs and minicamp with his teammates and coaching staff, the confidence of the second-year receiver is soaring as he enters 2012.
The ability on the field is evident when you watch him practice and though the offseason brought a new coordinator to conduct the offense, many aspects of the scheme have remained in place to help the tenured players maintain some of the continuity and chemistry they've established.
Last season as a rookie, Jones didn't have much of an opportunity to create strong chemistry with quarerback Matt Ryan. The lockout wiped out the offseason and training camp began in a whirlwind of activity as teams scrambled just to get their entire roster prepared to play games when Week 1 rolled around.
This offseason Jones has been at wide receiver coach Terry Robiskie's side, learning much of the finer nuances of the position that he missed out on last season. It's also given him more time to work with Ryan.
"It's great," Jones said in June of the full offseason of activity. "Not only spending time with Robiskie, but with Matt. We're connecting with balls and everything and I know where I'm supposed to be at the right time and right depth. It's very critical for me."
The chemistry has clearly developed for Jones and Ryan and even in a season when there wasn't much time for relationship building, the two managed to connect enough to showcase Jones' raw ability. His season in 2011 was the best or close to it of any rookie receiver in the NFL. Cincinnati's A.J. Green was the only receiver rivaling what Jones was doing on the field with little preparation time.
At times, the Alabama alum even flashed his ability to take over games. Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards in his 13-game rookie campaign, finding paydirt eight times – including two long TD catches of 50 and 80 yards in the first half of a November blowout win over the Colts.
Jones said he doesn't wish last season had gone any different. He struggled through some injuries that caused him to miss three games, but he's not looking back thinking about what could have been without the injuries or what he could have accomplished with an offseason of workouts. He also isn't dwelling on some of the growing pains he experienced as a rookie receiver facing big moments in critical games.
Instead he's looking ahead and that's a dangerous thing for opposing offenses in the coming year.
"The past is the past," Jones said. "I'm just forward to the upcoming season and going out there, playing football and playing fast, with that confidence that me and my quarterback are going to be on the same page this year."