Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a pass during training camp at the Falcons Training Complex. (Special photo: Dale Zanine)
FLOWERY BRANCH — Super Bowls, not Pro Bowls. That’s what concerns Julio Jones.
Half of the Atlanta Falcons’ dynamic duo at wide receiver, Jones worked hard in the offseason to keep making strides in his young career.
“Julio has had, in my mind, two really good seasons,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “We anticipate there will be a maturation process where he’ll continue to grow. When you’re at the level he’s at, who knows how high the ceiling is. But it’s his third year, he and Matt have been together, we’ve got a lot of weapons.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on how people try to defend us. That can change week to week and I think that’s a fun thing for not only Julio, but for our offensive staff and players.”
Jones made his diet a priority this summer, cutting out beef and pork.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m heavier and at the same time, I think I’ve put on more muscle. I run around great. I don’t get tired.”
Jones, a chiseled 229 pounds right now, also spent more time studying. It’s his third season in the system and Jones is to the point where it doesn’t require as much thinking.
“Just getting out there knowing the plays,” he said. “As soon as he says it, I know what I’ve got to do. I can read a defense a little better now. Everything is coming to me so much faster.
“The first year they kind of had me at X and last year moved me from X to Z. Now I can play any side, backfield, anywhere. I’m good to go. It just takes a lot of studying. You’ve got to put that work in.”
Jones is all business on the field, leaving the talking to others.
“When I go out there, man, and I put the helmet on, it’s time to go to work,” Jones said. “I really don’t care who’s in front of me, I just go out there and try to go work.
“Me, just going out there and playing Julio, going out there and being me. Not bringing it down a level. I’m raising the bar for them, bring their play up to my level.”
Jones has been highly touted at every level he’s played and said he’s had the same attitude since he was 12.
“You can be as talented as you want be, you just have to have that work ethic,” Jones said.
Coming out of Foley High School in Alabama, Jones was regarded as the nation’s top receiver by Rivals.com. He fulfilled that promise playing for the Crimson Tide. Jones’ 179 receptions rank second all-time at Alabama, while his 2,653 receiving yards rank second in school history and his 15 touchdowns are tied for fourth. He also helped the team to a national championship in 2009.
All that, combined with his willingness to put in the work, had Atlanta trading up to draft him sixth overall in 2011.
“Julio is one of the hardest working guys on our football team,” Smith said. “When we were doing our due diligence in evaluating him in the draft process, we heard nothing but great things. Obviously the move that we made to acquire Julio tells you what we think about him on all levels.”
Last season, Jones built on the success of his impressive rookie campaign to earn his first career Pro Bowl selection. He set career highs with 79 receptions for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. He went over 100 yards in a game four times and had his best effort in the biggest game of the season. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco in January.
Still, Jones said he doesn’t feel pressured by expectations.
“I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing,” he said. “No goals for myself. It’s all about the team. I’ve always been like that. I don’t have any personal goals. I don’t want to sell myself short.
“I know I can improve on every level — running routes, getting open, just knowing the material. We’ve got so many good players on this team, everybody just plays their role.”