The Atlanta Falcons came to the Branch ready to work as they prepare to travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers. Here are practice photos from Week 14.
In the National Football League—and in most professional landscapes, for that matter—actions tend to speak louder than words. This is especially true in the Falcons' locker room, where Julio Jones, a supremely talented yet soft-spoken individual, has quietly fostered an environment that preaches the importance of competitiveness, hard work and consistent dedication on and off the field.
Jones has accomplished this, according to Nick Williams, by supplementing his elite skills with the attitude of an undrafted free agent. Like everyone else, Williams has seen Jones author a remarkable (and potentially record-setting) campaign in 2015. What the public hasn't witnessed, though, is all the little things—the dedicated film study, the weight training, the emphasis placed on a good night's sleep.
"Having a guy like Julio, it becomes a trickle-down effect so to speak," said Williams. "He sets the tone and it filters out to the rest of the group. If you're a coach, you want him on your team; if you're a player, you want him as your teammate."
Justin Hardy has felt these effects, too. Jones has helped the young pass-catcher learn a robust playbook (something he didn't have to worry about in college) and has showed him how care for his body so it can hold up over the course of a grueling 16-game season.
"He attacks every day as if he needs to get better every day," Hardy said of No. 11. "It rubs off on you."
While Hardy and Williams only know Jones the veteran, Matt Ryan has seen the former sixth overall pick grow from a wide-eyed rookie to a someone others look up to. With so many budding skill position players in tow—including Williams, Hardy, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman—Atlanta's quarterback is happy to have another trusted voice at his side.
"Those guys really respect him and look up to him," Ryan said about Jones. "And he's such an unselfish teammate. He really is, for a guy that's such a high-caliber player and has such individual success. He's about as unselfish as it gets; it's all about the team. I'm really impressed with him in how he's grown into a leadership role."
"Julio's personality isn't to be the biggest talker in the room and give the fire and brimstone speech. He shows how to do it on the practice field; he'll take guys one-on-one and talk to them in individual situations. I think guys respond really well to that form of leadership because it's who he is. It's him just being himself naturally."
On the other side of the ball, many of Atlanta's defensive backs have observed Jones' approach, as well—including Robenson Therezie.
The free safety out of Auburn, who went from undrafted to a viable option behind Ricardo Allen, has gained valuable perspective by facing off against Jones at Flowery Branch. The most important thing he's noticed is how the star WR conducts himself when he's not the focus of a certain play. Therezie's seen a lot of opponents whose effort off the snap depends on whether or not they're going to get the ball.
Jones, however, runs every route like a throw is coming his direction.
"It keeps you on high alert," Therezie said. "I see Julio as a leader who shows by example. He doesn't say much, but he leads through his work ethic. It inspires us to do the same because we know he's one of the greats. In order to be like him, we have to work at it day by day."