With a fresh haircut to show off for the fans at the Falcons' first day of minicamp, Julio Jones showed what a difference an offseason makes.
Although he was the team's first overall pick last season, the prize of a draft-night deal to jump to No. 6, he didn't get a lot of time to work out with the team and the coaching staff because of the lockout. Rehab on his own from an ankle injury slowed his own work as well and once the season got going as quickly as the lockout ended, it was obvious Jones was doing what he could to hold his head above water.
The exciting part about Jones is that holding his head above water for 13 games produced 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. It's clear that 2011 was the surface for Jones and he's already scratching it. With an offseason of OTAs with quarterback Matt Ryan and the coaching staff, Jones is getting the seasoning he needs.
"It's great to have Julio here in the offseason program," head coach Mike Smith said. "Last year was very unique. We didn't have an offseason program. We anticipate his maturation process is going to go real quick. The arrow is just going up and up with him and with all of our skill players."
On Tuesday he showed the fans the kind of ability the Falcons have envisioned for him. Catching passes from Ryan, Jones demonstrated the technique and body control to make catches that put the fans in attendance on their feet. Appearing more solidly built, Jones and his deep speed should be the perfect counter part to Roddy White's strength game in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's vertical passing game.
Ryan is very happy to be throwing to Jones this offseason. The time they're spending together learning Koetter's new offense should pay dividends in the 2012 season.
"I think it's really beneficial for us to have this offseason," Ryan said. "It's his first one. He's had an opportunity to work with our receivers coach Terry Robiskie day in and day out without the stress of the week during the season and without a game plan. Really just to work on technique, work on route running and try to understand our offense a little bit more in-depth. He's done a great job. He's worked really hard. He seems really confident out there."