FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Julio Jones is still drawing double-takes over his new hairstyle.
His position coach is more taken with what he hears.
“You can listen to him run,” said Terry Robiskie, who work with the Atlanta Falcons receivers. “I can hear him galloping. I can actually hear the sound. It’s like a horse that’s trotting out on the track. Whatever that sound is, it’s music to your ears if you’re a coach.”
This is why the Falcons paid such a heavy price to land Jones in the first round of the 2011 draft. This is why the team is convinced that he’s poised to become one of the NFL’s top receivers, even after a rookie season that had some downs along with the ups.
“Just look at the physicality of the guy,” Robiskie said Sunday. “When you look at how strong he is, how big a guy he is, how powerful he is … he’s got all the powerful stuff that’s just beautiful to watch.”
To those on the outside, Jones’ most visible move of the off-season was cutting off his dreadlocks, which he had throughout his college career at Alabama and his rookie season with the Falcons. He donated the hair to a charity that helps children with cancer and has no plans to grow it back, enjoying his sleeker look – especially in the heat of a Georgia summer.
For the coaching staff, the most noticeable difference is on the field. Jones is much more comfortable in the Falcons’ offense, having spent much of 2011 learning on the fly.
Because of the lockout, rookies didn’t get a chance to work with their teams until training camp opened, eliminating all those valuable months spent learning the playbook, meshing with new teammates and getting acclimated to the NFL way of life.
“Confidence” is how Robiskie describes it.
The first two preseason games have provided a tantalizing glimpse of what this season might hold. Playing what amounts to just over a half, Jones already has nine receptions for 150 yards.
“I’m not sure about people’s expectations,” head coach Mike Smith said. “I do know this: Julio is a better player today than last year when we were breaking camp. There’s no doubt about that, just from the maturation process of understanding what it means and what it takes to be an NFL player.”
With a new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, the Falcons are hoping to produce the sort of explosive numbers that everyone kept waiting for <0x2014> and waiting for <0x2014> last season. They still have weapons all over the place: quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“I don’t have to be that No. 1 guy all the time,” he said. “We’ve got No. 1 guys all over the team.”
Maybe the new hairstyle will help.
“It’s like those Olympic swimmers who shave their heads because they don’t want any resistance,” Robiskie said. “Now, he’s got nothing to hold him back. He’s got no resistance up there. We think he was going fast before. I think he can actually fly now.”