Jones leaves no doubt that when he takes the field on Sept. 11, he'll give the Falcons their money's worth in effort and attitude. Asked if it would bother him to be the third or fourth target in an offense rich with offensive weapons, he said quickly, "No, sir. Not at all, sir."
Said Jones, "I'm a winner. I don't care about stats. I never have. In the first game of the year, if I catch no balls and we win, I'll be thrilled. If they tell me the game plan is to go out and block the safety in the mouth 60 times and we win, I'll be thrilled. To me, football's been about winning and nothing else."
In the first two preseason games Jones was targeted only six times. Against Jacksonville on Aug. 19 he blocked with fervor downfield but was well covered by a physical secondary that took shots at him in the five-yard bump zone. If slot receiver Harry Douglas (against the Jags he scored on a 76-yard catch-and-sprint) is fully back from a 2009 knee injury—he tore his left ACL; last year he played all 16 games but clearly wasn't himself—there's a good chance that early on Jones will be blocking more often than his price tag would suggest.
Ryan seems comfortable with his new receiver. "I threw to him three times a week for seven weeks after the draft at a high school in the area," the fourth-year QB says. "We were running the routes he'd have been running in minicamps. We were able to get in the kind of quality practices you want to have with a rookie before he takes the field for real."
It's clear from his demeanor that Jones doesn't take losing well; neither does the other big-name newcomer, Edwards. When Atlanta was embarrassed by the Packers in the playoffs last January, there appeared to be little fightback against the slaughter. Edwards, who boxed to stay in shape in the off-season, is a pugnacious guy with a short on-field fuse, a quality the Falcons were looking for as they pursued a defensive end in free agency.
Dimitroff isn't second-guessing himself about the deal for Jones. He has a good relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban, who put his own credibility on the line with the Falcons, telling Atlanta that Jones was an even better person and worker than he was a receiver. "At the end of the process," says Dimitroff, "we were convinced Julio was the kind of player we had to have to make our team significantly better."
In the NFC these days, with the Packers and Saints and Eagles fortified and four or five other bona fide Super Bowl contenders, a team can't stand pat. The Falcons are betting the future that their moves will make the difference.
WITH 2010 STATS