Jones, Sarkisian building stronger bond

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Falcons' All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones talks about the team's execution during training camp. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter)

“We have a year under our belt,” offensive coordinator said of star WR

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is developing a stronger bond with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Last season, they were both feeling each other out as Jones was coming back from toe surgery. Sarkisian first called a play for Jones in the season opener, without the benefit of much practice.

The relationship between Sarkisian and his most explosive weapon apprarently will be much better this season.

“Without a doubt because it’s Year 2,” Jones said. “We are going to have a better relationship. We are going to know each other a little better because him coming in, he had to come right in and everybody had so much hype, stress and pressure and things like that. At the end of the day, I don’t know how he took it.”

After a perceived threat of a holdout, Jones has been in camp and hasn’t missed a practice.

“We have a year under our belt together,” Sarkisian said. “Eighteen games of working together and understanding the things he does and what he’s comfortable with. I think all of that adding up has put us in a much better space at this time this year then maybe this time a year ago.

“It’s night and day of kind of where we are at.”

Sarkisian has been impressed with the training camp Jones has put together thus far.

“He’s been working extremely hard,” Sarkisian said. “His rapport with (quarterback) Matt (Ryan) has been tremendous.”

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn also has been pleased with Jones’ camp.

“Definitely, what I’ve seen from him in training camp, the speed and explosion and him feeling as aggressive as I’ve seen him play,” Quinn said. “That’s a good thing for us. I see the timing and communications (with) Matt at quarterback and the other receivers.

“He’s had one hell of a training camp. I’ve been very impressed by the work that he’s put in and the insight that he’s (given) the guys. He’s been off to a good start.”

Without the benefit of bonding with Sarkisian, Jones caught 88 passes for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns during the 2017 regular season. He added 18 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.

Jones said he doesn’t feel like needs to tell Sarkisian what routes he prefers or when he likes to get the ball.

“Nah, I show him every day at practice what I can do,” Jones said.

The strong training camp by Jones is setting the tone for the offense, which dipped from first (33.8 points per game) in the league in scoring to 15th (22.1 points per game) last season.

“I’m healthy, and I’m taking advantage of it,” Jones said. “It feels good to come out here and be able to do everything.”

While Jones is doing great in camp, he didn’t play in the exhibition opener and likely won’t play until the third exhibition game (the dress rehearsal) at Jacksonville on Aug. 25.

“We are just trying to get guys in there and get looks on guys and things like that,” Jones said.

There is an early sense that the offense will have a revival this season.

“Just speaking on practice, everything looks great,” Jones said. “We can move the ball. We can do everything. We are working on situational ball, things like that.

“Just trying to fine tune things and when those moments come up, it easy for us to do. There’s no pressure on us, no added pressure.”

Jones knows the offense must improve in the red zone.

The Falcons fell off drastically inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. They scored 64.5 percent of the time in 2016, which ranked eighth in the 32-team NFL. Last season, the Falcons scored 49.1 percent of the time and ranked 23rd.

“What we have been doing here is every day, just working on the red zone,” Jones said. “Trying to get better every day. Seeing different looks every day. If we are getting pressed down there, zone or anything like that. Everybody can make a play down there so we’ve been trying work everybody in the red zone and let those guys work their one-on-one matchups. So, it’s the best matchup.”

Jones wants to be more than a decoy in the red zone.

“For me, we are kind of a run heavy team in the red zone,” Jones said. “But if the match up is there, no doubt I want it… go to the best guy. Whoever has the best matchup in that situation, whether if it’s me or (Calvin) Ridley, (Mohamed Sanu) or (Justin) Hardy.”