FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Julio Jones did not take a snap in preseason and the two-time All-Pro receiver is not the least bit concerned.
When the Atlanta Falcons visit Philadelphia to open the NFL schedule on Thursday night, Jones says he will be fully healthy to face the defending champions.
After playing through a hip flexor, a back injury and an ankle injury last year, Jones says he feels better than he has to begin a season since 2015, the breakthrough year that stands as his best statistically.
Coach Dan Quinn held Jones and two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman out of preseason games to avoid potential injuries. Freeman was sidelined twice by concussions last year. Jones has undergone right foot surgery twice and was on the injury report for much of 2017.
Jones and Freeman have not missed practice since training camp began six weeks ago.
“Q has the utmost respect for us and confidence in us that we’ll be ready to go,” Jones said Monday.
“He put it in our corner to come out here at practice and just go full speed and make it like game-time. Once you go out here and practice like that, the game will be easy for you.”
Despite the injuries, Jones did not miss a game last season, catching 88 passes for 1,444 yards to help the Falcons earn a wild-card playoff victory before the season ended the following week on fourth-and-goal at the 2 in Philadelphia.
The last play fell flat. As quarterback Matt Ryan rolled right, Jones was lined up opposite cornerback Jalen Mills. Jones fell down and had trouble getting back up with Mills draping him, but got to his feet again as Ryan prepared to target him in the right corner of the end zone.
Jones turned to face Ryan and jumped higher than Mills, but the ball sailed through his hands . The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. Atlanta, which lost the Super Bowl in stunning fashion the year before, went home disappointed.
“They’re all right, they’re all right,” Jones said when asked about Philadelphia’s secondary. “They can cover well. We played them last year, and they were victorious. But that was last year. We don’t speak on last year and things like that.”
Jones had an unusual offseason, skipping a mandatory minicamp and sending word that he wanted a new contract entering the third season of a five-year, $71.5 million deal.
The Falcons made a slight adjustment and promised to discuss the situation in 2019 and get Jones a contract that ranks among the best at his position. He reported to camp on time.
Entering his eighth year, Jones has a chance to become the first receiver in history with at least 80 catches and 1,400 yards receiving in five straight seasons.
But he caught only three touchdown passes last year, his career low in a full season, and the Falcons were criticized for not getting him the ball enough in the red zone.
Ryan targeted him 22 times inside the 20-yard line, but Jones had just six catches.
“I’m going to go out there and put my best foot forward and give my all,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m not a stat person. I’m just trying to go out there and try to be the best teammate I can be.”