Julio Jones misses Roddy White, finds himself picking up the slack

Julio Jones agrees the clock is ticking for Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones did not grow up watching football.

Ironic, since over the years we haven't been able to take our eyes off the screen as Jones became one of the top receivers in the NFL.

Growing up in Foley, Alabama, Jones wasn't a a big football fan until he came across a clip of the great Barry Sanders. Sanders inspired Jones, who played running back until he was a freshman in high school.

In college, Jones was drawn to other sports besides football, especially track and field. Jones won events, set records, but he wasn't sure he could make it.

"I'm fast, but I could probably be faster," he said.

More irony.

Jones is ridiculously fast. His speed is what helped him last season to break away from defenders and amass 1,871 yards, a franchise record and the second-most receiving yards in the history of the NFL. He has more than 6,000 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns in five seasons.

But as Jones enters his sixth professional season, he pointed out it feels different from previous years now that former Falcon Roddy White is gone. The team released him following last season, and he has not signed with another team.

"When I first came in, Roddy was coaching me up and showing me things, what to look for in the defense," Jones said. "As the years went on, we started coaching together. And now, I'm pretty much here to coach these guys."

Jones has had a lot of work to do this offseason with newcomers like Mohamed Sanu and Aldrick Robinson joining and making the roster, as well as Nick Williams and J.D. McKissic who signed to the practice squad.

Trying to get the receivers adjusted to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's up-tempo offense is difficult. Without White, it's even harder.

Jones is doing the best he can.

"I wish he was here, but he's not. I feel like I'm doing the things he did for me to make him proud," he said. "I want other people to excel and do good. I want the team to do good."

And the team needs to do well. After an 8-8 finish last season, the Falcons haven't had a winning season since 2012 when they made it to the NFC Championship.

When asked if the clock is ticking for the Falcons to do something, anything, Jones agreed.

"Most definitely. We need to get something moving forward. We just got to be aggressive and take it one game at a time."

But Jones doesn't want the team to conform to anyone's expectations other than their own. And while there's pressure on all of them to succeed and try to return to the form they were back in 2012, Jones doesn't feel it.

"If I missed a ball, I missed it. I didn't try to miss it. I went as hard as I could, and it's all I had on that play."

Jones is one of the best receivers in the league. When you ask him if he thinks he is the best, he just brushes it off, much like when he shrugged his shoulders about all he accomplished at Alabama. Why? He said because he cares more about the team's success than his own success.

"I want to bring other people with me and inspire."

PHOTOS | Julio Jones


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