To believe these “voluntary” NFL off-season training sessions hold real value is to believe that all the important parts need to be present. Young guys learn. Older guys recharge and mentor. And the delicate art of team-building is advanced another day.
Julio Jones, you may have heard, has volunteered to not attend Falcons OTAs. There is the slight odor of discontent to his decision, but we can’t know for sure until his next encounter with TMZ.
While the Falcons are in the position of stressing the importance of offseason training, they also are intent upon minimizing Jones’ opt-out. Just how much does someone with seven years and 9,054 yards invested in his pro career really need to be here in May?
Another good part of actually coming to these things is that you don’t leave it to others to answer questions like that.
Jones’ quarterback, who never flinches while in the pocket of a press conference, was left to speak on behalf of his star receiver Wednesday.
“‘Hoo’ and I keep in touch all the time. He’s in great shape and he’s going to be well prepared and ready to go for the season,” Ryan said, beginning a litany of assurances.
The Alabama receiver Ryan currently is connecting with is first-round pick Calvin Ridley. The veteran sounds encouraged.
“We’ve seen excellent transition in and out of breaks, as good as anybody I’ve been around,” Ryan said. “(Ridley’s) got very good hands. He’s smart. We put a lot on these guys early in OTAs – as far as knowing different positions, knowing where to line up, different route combinations, adjustments that we have to certain coverages. He’s picked up all that stuff really well.”
As for the older model ‘Bama guy, Ryan, to the surprise of no one, betrayed not the slightest worry. Yeah, these sessions mean something. But then again, maybe not.
“About being on the same page: We’ve played together for a long time and when he’s healthy and when he feels good, like he does right now, it’s very easy to get on the same page,” Ryan said of Jones. “He’s so talented. We’re fine. I think we’re in a good spot. We’ll get in some good work before the season starts, like we always do.”
The amount of one-on-one time Ryan and his leading receiver have gotten this offseason is something of a state secret. Because football doesn’t have enough of those. “It’s really nobody else’s business,” Ryan said. But he added that he would be throwing to him more, somewhere, sometime. Just don’t ask where or when.
So, Matt, any concern about Jones’ state of mind entering the season?
“No, no concern. He’s been one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around. He’s always been extremely well prepared going into seasons, going into games.
We’ll be ready to go when July comes up.”
What do the Falcons miss with a player of Jones’ caliber not being here now?
“With where he’s at in his career, his familiarity with the offense, his understanding of timing and rhythm and all those things, I think if anybody can get back on the same page the fastest, it’s him. It’s not something I’m concerned with at all. We’ll be just fine.
“Julio knows our offense. He knows where to line up. He knows what route combinations we’re going to run and the details of the route. Hell, he teaches a lot of our guys the routes, too. He knows what he’s doing, he’s in extremely good shape now and he feels really good.”
So, will he show up when things turn mandatory?
“You have to ask him.”
Well, there’s one small problem with that. He’s not here.