Big year for Falcons WR Julio Jones?

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
4:03
PM ET
If you watch the video of Atlanta coach Mike Smith talking to the media after Tuesday’s workout, it might sound a little like a typical Smith news conference.

The coach is a genuinely nice guy, but, like many football coaches, he’s guarded with what he says and that often makes him sound boring. Smith will say all the usual clichés. But I’ve learned how to read him over the years and there are moments when it’s possible to tell he’s genuinely excited about something.

That happened toward the end of Tuesday’s session when Smith was asked about second-year receiver Julio Jones. He’s the player the Falcons traded up to draft in 2011 and last year’s lockout prevented him from spending offseason time with his coaches. Smith sounded pretty emphatic when he talked about how this year’s offseason program will help Jones’ development.

“It will help him immensely in terms of learning the system,’’ Smith said. “He got thrown into it (last year). Julio looks so much more comfortable and has a better understanding of not only what it takes with our system but being a professional football player. He’s just going to continue to get better and better. I thought he had a great season last year and we anticipate the maturation process to continue.’’

Again, I’m reading into what Smith said and how he said it. But this is a guy that generally avoids heaping too much praise or criticism on individual players. I’m sensing a genuine excitement from Smith about Jones. I understand it completely. Jones had a very nice rookie year without the benefit of an offseason and while battling some injuries. With a full offseason -- and assuming he stays healthy -- I think Jones could be headed for greatness.

Matter of fact, I’m currently working on a list of the top 25 NFC South players for 2012 that will run later this summer. At the moment, I’m leaning toward ranking Jones ahead of Atlanta’s other starting receiver, Roddy White, and I’m not leaning that way simply because I want to give White something to tweet about.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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