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Falcons' 2nd-year players catching up during minicamp
Falcons Football Heal
Spectators watch as Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, right, makes a catch against teammate Chris Owens during minicamp Tuesday in Flowery Branch. - photo by Associated Press

    FLOWERY BRANCH — Rookies are not the only Atlanta Falcons players going through their first minicamp this week.
    This also is the first offseason program for such second-year players as receiver Julio Jones and running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who had no minicamp or organized team activities last year because of the NFL lockout.
    Jones, Rodgers and other second-year players are making up for lost time with lessons with their position coaches that began with OTAs in May.
    Falcons coach Mike Smith says he's expecting to see the 2011 draft picks mature quickly.
    "It's great to have Julio here in the offseason program," Smith said. "Last year was very unique because we didn't have an offseason program. We anticipate his maturation process is going to go real quick. The arrow is just going up and up with him and I think with all of our second-year players."
    Some 2011 rookies played key roles despite missing the normal summer preparation.
    Rodgers was the team's second-leading rusher in 2011 even though he said he wasn't confident he knew all the plays until almost halfway through the season.
    "I would say probably like Week 5 or 6 is when you started feeling comfortable, because it's different from the practice to the game," Rodgers said.
    Jones, last year's first-round draft pick from Alabama, missed three games but had 54 catches for 959 yards and tied for the team lead with eight touchdown receptions.
    Jones said he never allowed himself to wonder how much better his rookie season might have been with the benefit of a traditional offseason.
    "I'm a competitor. I don't think it was that hard for me, as far as going out and competing and that aspect of the game," Jones said Wednesday. "But as far as the timing and everything, you can't make that up. Either you have that timing or you don't, and I didn't have that timing last year."
    Now, with OTAs and the minicamp, Jones said he can tell a difference after a full offseason with quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers coach Terry Robiskie. Ryan found Jones for long passes Tuesday and Wednesday.
    "It's great, not only spending time with Robiskie but with Matt, connecting on balls and everything and just knowing where I'm supposed to be, the right depth and everything," Jones said. "It's very critical for me."