Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) made this diving catch against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Sept 16, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Julio Jones is happy to do double duty 

Falcons wide receiver-turned safety forced final play vs. Bucs

It was Jones, after all, who on the final play of Sunday’s 34-29 win over Tampa Bay came up from his very rare safety position to force Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to lateral the ball near the goal line on a play that left the visitors just short at game’s end.

You wonder: If Winston hadn’t tossed, would Jones have lit him up?

“Well, you know we talk about it around here: We see better than we hear,” Jones said in a most apolitical tone. “If the opportunity comes up again, I’d rather show you rather than speak on it.”

Did he play on the defense at Foley High School while growing up in Alabama?

“Yeah, played both (offense and defense) in high school. I played the spy, linebacker, safety, cornerback. I can do it all,” he recounted. “I love defense.”

That was delivered with a smile, and a semi-circle of tape recorders and cameras chuckled.

This was a man expressing little concern over the absence from practice of fellow starting wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who has a nagging hip, and Jones seems fret-free as rookie wideout Calvin Ridley battles an ankle sprain for the Falcons (2-4).

Nevermind the possibility that their absence Monday night against the Giants (1-5) might make it easier for New York to double-team the dickens out of him. 

“Nah. They’re going to move me around, and do what we do,” he explained. “But if those guys don’t play, we’ve got other guys that can make plays as well. Marvin (Hall) can come in and make plays, (Russell) Gage can come in, (Justin) Hardy can come in.”

If Gage, a rookie, and the youngster Hall play significant minutes, might Jones do more coaching than usual?

Uh, no.

“My thing is when I talk to those guys, I really don’t coach too much during the game,” he said. “It happens out here at practice, in meeting rooms and things like that, so when it gets to the game they play full speed, and if they mess up, let them mess up at full speed. 

“Don’t have them out there thinking.”

Sure enough, there was Jones after practice counseling Ridley – who was limited during work -- presumably on wide receivering.

During the week, yeah, he’ll wear the occasional coach’s hat, although Jones will have you know that he’s not going any deeper with Ridley than anybody else. Calvin has a handle, and to him the advice given is modest.

“Calvin’s been coming along. You just don’t want him to get in his own way as a young player,” Jones said. “You want to please everybody. You can’t please everybody. 

“You’ve got to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re doing because at the end of the day if you’re going to get blamed, get blamed for something you’re doing, not (what) somebody else is telling you. That’s all I tell him: just be him.”

When a question came about Matt Ryan’s sterling statistics, Julio started to answer, stopped when a staffer said something, and then Jones said, “Oh, not Matt Schaub?” 

There was a little more chuckling about, and then the wideout heaped praise upon the starting quarterback rather than his backup.

He appeared to be in a fine mood, yet the fact that the Falcons are surrendering 32 points per game is no laughing matter. 

So, when asked about Ryan’s earlier comments that if the offense has to score 40 or 50 points or something crazy like that to win, well, then their goal will be to go crazy, Jones did not grin. 

Only the Bucs (34.8) are allowing more. They just fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

“Each week it changes. We might have to go out there and score 21 points. We might have to go out there and score 48 points or whatever,” he said. “Whatever it is, we’re up for the challenge. We just have to go out there and dial up the plays, and we try to be successful and try to score on every drive.”

Jones ranks second in the NFL with 708 receiving yards, tied for fourth with 69 targets, tied for seventh with 44 receptions, and tied for second with 32 receptions for first downs.

He has done no scoring, but Jones is not one to latch onto numbers, and on this day that topic was left to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. He dismissed it no more or less effectively than Jones in the past.

No, frankly, the Falcons are not searching for special ways to get No. 11 into the end zone; they’re seeking ways to score, period.

“We haven’t looked at it like that,” Sarkisian said of Jones’ broken relationship with end zones. “We’ve really looked at it like running the best plays for the situations at hand, and you know we were in the red zone three times last week and scored three touchdowns. 

“So, the execution’s been there, and Julio’s been great. The guy is a selfless player, and works extremely hard as we all know, and he’s a big reason the other guys are getting their touchdowns. As long as the double-coverage stuff continues like we see it, it allows for opportunities for others guys.”

The opportunity to play on “Monday Night Football” is no big deal.

“No. Football is football. Nothing changes for me,” Jones said. “The game can be Wednesday, Saturday, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing.”

Shoot, Julio doesn’t even claim any special memories from watching MNF as a kid. In fact, he said, “I didn’t even watch football growing up.”

He has long played the game, however, and he believes in himself as a player on offense and defense, and even on special teams. “I can do it all: gunner, but I just stay away from it.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Jones doesn’t love defense so much that he asks to play it although he will if asked even as coaches prefer not to be in a position to post the question.

Ronnie Lott he’s not.

“I can’t play defense here,” he said with a sly smile. “I trust those guys on that side of the ball.”

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