Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.

The Atlanta Falcons’ offense, which hopes to rebound in 2018, didn’t have its top weapon during the offseason.

Falcons four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones did not participate in the team’s offseason program. However, he did recently work out with quarterback Matt Ryan and most of the receiving corps a week before the rookies and veterans report on Wednesday, July 26 for training camp.

Ryan believes that it will easy to get Jones back up to speed once camp starts.

“I don’t think that will be difficult,” Ryan said. “He’s such an incredible player. Such a talented player and he’s been working hard. He’s in great shape.”

While the Falcons wanted Jones on hand during the offseason, they are ready to welcome him back with open arms.

At the end of the offseason program, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said that conversations had already started to settle Jones’ situation.

“He knows this system inside and out,” Ryan said. “He always extremely well prepared. I’m confident and positive that he’ll be ready to go.”

The offense averaged 33.8 points per game under coordinator Kyle Shanahan in 2016 and dropped to 22.1 last season, which ranked 15th, nearly out of the top half of the league.

The Falcons had 19 explosive touchdowns from outside the red zone in 2016, but only seven last season.

The Falcons fell off drastically inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, the so-called red zone. They were 64.5 percent in 2016, which ranked eighth in the NFL. Under coordinator Steve Sarkisian last season, they were 49.1 and ranked 23rd.

The Falcons, who must replace fullback Derrick Coleman and stabilize the right guard position, have a talented unit that includes four former Pro Bowlers in Ryan, Jones, center Alex Mack and running back Devonta Freeman.

“We have all of the pieces of the puzzle to win,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “Now, it’s being consistent and executing.”

Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel had a strong first season. The unit showed improvement.

“We are going to be relentless,” Manuel said. “We are going to be tough. We are going to be smart. When we say being intelligent, that’s doing my job 1,000 percent of the time. … What are we going to do to help win a championship?”

The Falcons finished in the top 10 in several key defensive categories last season. The Falcons defense improved from 27th to eighth in scoring defense, 25th to ninth in total yards, 17th to ninth in rushing yards.

“The game is evolving,” Manuel said. “There are times when you play teams that still have the fullback and they get the running back the ball. You have to be prepared both ways. It’s a balance between the two.”




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