published Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Falcons veterans, newcomers learning to play together

  • photo
    This May 24, 2011, file photo shows Atlanta Falcons rookie receiver Julio Jones, left, greeting quarterback Matt Ryan before an informal football workout, in Buford, Ga. Ryan and Jones haven't let the NFL lockout stop them from beginning a new friendship. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

By George Henry, The Associated Press

BUFORD, Ga. — The NFL lockout hasn’t affected an emerging friendship between Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and rookie receiver Julio Jones.

Over the past two months, the new teammates have met at Ryan’s suburban Atlanta home to study formations and discuss how Jones, the NFL’s No. 6 overall draft pick, will fit into the offense.

They eat lunch. They study football. They learn each other’s background.

One guy mostly talks. The other guy mostly listens.

“I think for him, it was extra important to do this,” Ryan said. “We have veteran guys who know the offense, who know what they are doing and how to prepare. For me, it was really good just to stay in his ear every day.”

The Falcons held their last session of 7-on-7 drills on Thursday that Ryan first organized six weeks ago.

When everyone had cleared the roasting field at Buford High School, Jones stayed extra time to run lengthy sideline routes with Ryan.

They were trying to establish their timing for an over-the-shoulder catch, a hard-thrown arc that Jones was catching with relative ease. Third-string quarterback John Parker Wilson, Jones’ former teammate at Alabama, worked as a translator of sorts, helping the rookie understand Falcons’ jargon and Ryan relate to Jones’ college playbook.

“I kind of recognize everything because it’s the same pro set we ran at Alabama,” Jones said. “It’s just the terminology that’s really getting to me. But it’s a good thing I’ve got Matt and the other guys. They help me out because there’s so much information coming in, but it’s my job to learn it.”

As Ryan sees it, he must help Jones blend into the offense quickly.

Atlanta, despite earning the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed last season, managed just 44 plays of 20 yards or longer, tying Carolina for the fewest in the league.

Ryan has acknowledged that his pride was hurt in the postseason, getting blown out at home by eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay as the offense broke down.

Everything failed even though wideout Roddy White had led the NFL in catches, Michael Turner ranked sixth in rushing, tight end Tony Gonzalez was playing at a high level and the quarterback went 13-3.

Now that Ryan has Jones in the mix, however, he wants to focus on 2011. He believes the workouts at Buford High have been helpful and spirited.

“I think we did a great job,” Ryan said. “We kept it loose and we kept it fun every day. I think it’s going to serve us well. We won’t be as rusty when we get into training camp. We kind of used our verbiage, ran the routes and did the things we needed to do.”

White worked with Jones on Thursday for the second time, even playfully lining up occasionally at cornerback directly opposite his new teammate.

“We did a lot of good things last year, and now we’ve got Julio,” White said. “That does nothing but improve the offense, and we expect to do better. That’s our goal, to lead the NFL in everything. Every offensive category.”

Ryan has enjoyed some circumstances of the lockout, building a relationship with Jones that otherwise would’ve been largely orchestrated by coaches.

Not this year.

“I think what we’ve tried to do is keep it as similar to what would be doing as possible,” Ryan said. “This would kind of be our last week with weightlifting, conditioning and OTAs and stuff if we were at Flowery Branch.”

When Ryan first met Jones in early May, he was struck with his new teammate’s 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, but it took little time to see Jones’ stoic temperament when compared to White’s giggly persona.

“I think what fuels them is different,” Ryan said. “Roddy is out there talking and have a great time. That’s great because people feed off that energy, but Julio seems to be a little bit different, and that’s good. It’s tough when you’ve got everybody being vocal, so I think he’s a good fit in our wide receiver room, and he will do a great job. I think he’ll be vocal when he needs to be.”

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