Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, a major cog in the offense, played only eight plays in the exhibition season.
Jones underwent foot surgery to remove a bunion from his right foot in March, but will start when the Falcons, the defending NFC champs, open the season against the Chicago Bears at 1 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field.
“I’m back to normal now,” Jones said on Thursday. “Normal with no limits or anything like that. I’m practicing the plays I practiced last year and the year before that. I’m a full go. There are no restraints on me or anything like that.”
Jones, 28, who’s set to enter his seventh season in the league, did not participate in the offseason program. The Falcon eased him back into things once training camp started in late July.
At one point the Falcons were thinking that might now have Jones for the opener.
“We were fortunate that (Julio) didn’t have to go on PUP (physically unable to perform),” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
While playing just the eight plays in exhibition season is less that idea, the Falcons are confident that Jones is ready for the season.
“He got so much of the work and the timing with Matt (Ryan), I’m not going to call it behind the scenes, but the last few weeks he’s really been running full speed and we were able to play him in the third (exhibition) season, although in a small amount,” Quinn said. “But that week of practice he had, what we would call a normal allotment of his reps and his plays, and then the same thing last week. This is really his third week at full speed.”
Jones never thought the PUP list would come into play.
“I knew that I’d be ready to go, but that’s how coach Quinn is,” Jones said. “He’s a great coach for us and the thing is, he wants to protect his players. We communicate and I was like ‘hey I’ll be ready to go.’ And he was like, ‘I trust you’ and we just worked through it.”
Jones turned in another fine season with 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns to help the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI. His yards led the NFC and it was his fourth season with 1,000 yards, which is tied for second-most in franchise history.
Since the 2014 season, Jones leads theNFL with 4,873 receiving yards and ranks second with 323 catches.
The Falcons led the league in scoring (33.8), passing yards per play (8.3 yards) and yards per play (6.69) under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left to become San Francisco’s head coach.
Jones believes the offense will remain potent under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
“We are ready to go,” Jones said. “Practice was good yesterday. We connected on everything yesterday. The timing is there. We are not going to lose that timing. We are hitting on all cylinders, me and Matt.”
Sarkisian believes that Jones is ready to keep shining in the NFL.
“I think the last couple, two and half weeks, he’s practiced very well,” Sarkisian said. “He’s running well. The intermediate stuff, the deep stuff, the short-game stuff and he’s comfortable with his spots on the field.
“He’s where he needs to be and most importantly his rapport with Matt is where it needs to be at this point. I feel good about that.”
The Bears could be without their top cornerback Prince Amukamara, who suffered an ankle injury in the third exhibition game and did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday.
“They have some guys banged up, so we don’t really know who is going to play,” Jones said. “We just have to focus on us and go out there and get after these guys. They are a very talented group.”
Jones is looking forward to the opener after a tough offseason.
“Most definitely, it’s the best week,” Jones said. “It’s the first game… It’s time to go. Live bullets. Everything counts now. It’s not like you’re out sacrificing something and could possibly get hurt like with the (exhibition) season. But after all of the hard work, we are going to see where we are at now.”
Jones is comfortable with Sarkisian.
“Sark is very aggressive,” Jones said. “He’s definitely aggressive. He’s going to get the ball into the play maker’s hands. Everybody has something in the game plan…He’s a great (offensive coordinator) for us.”
One of the main themes is can Sarkisian keep the offense rolling as an elite NFL unit in his first stint as a pro coordinator. Sarkisian hasn’t been in the NFL since 2004.
“Everybody wants answers, just watch the game to get your answers,” Jones said.