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Jones embracing leadership role
julio web
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) signs autographs after practice Thursday, in Flowery Branch, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It took six years for Julio Jones to become the leader of the Atlanta Falcons' receiving group.

But with his close friend Roddy White no longer on the team, Jones has become the guy everyone looks to for advice.

He's quick to pass along what White, who owns most of the team's receiving records, always talked about.

"Roddy took me under his wing from the start, saying to just come in here and do what you do," Jones said at minicamp Wednesday. "Just do your job. Don't try to be somebody else. Just be you and everything else will take care of itself."

Jones arrived in 2011 with high expectations. The Falcons traded up from the 27th to the sixth spot to draft the former Alabama star, and Jones has been worth the risk.

He's coming off his first All-Pro season and third trip to the Pro Bowl, but this is his first offseason without White, who was released in March and replaced by free agent Mohamed Sanu.

"For me it's different because he's not there, but for the other guys I'm keeping it the same way just like if he was there," Jones said. "Everything he taught me I can relate to those guys in the room as far as coaching each other and letting them understand the game better.

Jones' first order of business has been helping Sanu assimilate to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme.

Jones put up big numbers in his first season under Shanahan. His 136 catches for 1,871 yards receiving each ranked as the second-best single season in NFL history.

Sanu will need to be patient. White's targets dropped off last season as pass plays were mostly tailored for quarterback Matt Ryan to look first for Jones, second for running back Devonta Freeman and third for tight end Jacob Tamme.

White and Shanahan didn't clash with each other, but they did tend to disagree.

Opportunities will come Sanu's way. He's just not going to be the featured guy, a role he's already accustomed to after playing second option in Cincinnati to Bengals star A.J. Green.

"Communication is very, very high on our board and one of the big things we needed to fix," Jones said. "That's the thing now. We can talk about everything among each other and the coaches as well."

Jones is excited that Shanahan is committed to throwing deep more often this season. The Falcons ranked sixth overall in passing, but were just 22nd in catches of 20 yards or more.

In practice Wednesday, Jones and Ryan misread each other on a long route, and the ball fell incomplete. No big deal in mid-June, though. That's what minicamp is for.

Plus, it's a good chance for everyone on the field to learn.

"We have to know in those situations where he's going to throw the ball," Jones said. "Sometimes it might be back shoulder, sometimes it's not. You can't predetermine.

"Those little things we've got to communicate on and keep working on, but overall we're doing a great job. We don't really miss those (as much), and we're going to take a lot more chances and shots down the field."