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In most training camps, when the quarterback walks by, fans elbow each other. Kids shriek for an autograph. Eyes get glued on the guy.
In two Falcons practices witnessed by an SI reporter this August it was the rookie receiver from Alabama, Julio Jones, everyone wanted to see.
"What number's Julio?"
"God, Julio's skinny!"
"Julio! JULIO!! JULIO!!!"
The Falcons signed the pricey defensive end they've needed for years in Vikings free agent Ray Edwards. They drafted a flashy new running back, Jacquizz Rodgers from Oregon State. There's an alltime tight end, Tony Gonzalez, playing what may be his last season. Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan is in the house, throwing to All-Pro wideout Roddy White and handing off to 1,000-yard rusher Michael Turner.
And there's number 11, the man G.M. Thomas Dimitroff mortgaged a significant part of Atlanta's future to acquire on draft day. Last year in the NFC South, Tampa Bay sat back and drafted Mike Williams from Syracuse in the fourth round, and he became the No. 1 wideout on a 10-win team. This year the Falcons traded 2011 second- and fourth-round picks and next year's first- and fourth-rounders to move up 21 spots in the first round, to sixth, so they could choose Jones, a receiver with a tremendous work ethic, elite speed, good blocking ability and questionable hands.
At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Jones plays above everyone in the secondary and wins balls in the air. In training camp his confidence was evident: Even when he was closely guarded by a corner he was sticking his hand up to grab the ball. He just thinks he's going to win it.
He'd better. This was a franchise-altering trade, a deal some of Dimitroff's peers thought was gutsy and others crazy. In camp the Falcons didn't see the occasional drops that were visible on Jones's Alabama tape, but they know they could when the real games start.