Mike Smith: Julio Jones ahead of schedule for Falcons


The Atlanta Falcons' 2013 season began circling the drain when Julio Jones went down with a season-ending foot injury.

Speaking at the NFL Annual Meeting on Wednesday, coach Mike Smith revealed that Jones is ahead of schedule in his return from surgery.

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"We anticipate he'll be ready to go 100 percent," Smith said, per the Falcons' official website. "We'll get him going at some point in time here in the offseason. We'll be very careful. Our No. 1 goal is to have him ready to participate in training camp."

The Falcons won't rush Jones through offseason practices, as he's well-schooled in Dirk Koetter's offense. Furthermore, there's no reason for Jones to risk re-injury entering the final season of his rookie deal.

Whether it's this summer or next offseason, Jones is about to hit the jackpot with a new contract. He was on pace for a monstrous season of 130 receptions and 1,850 yards when the injury struck in early October.

Atlanta's No. 1 playmaker is already on the radar of the NFC South's newest head coach.

"Man, this is a tough guy. He's just a special talent," Lovie Smith said Wednesday, via ESPN.com. "There are some special receivers in the league. Of course, Calvin Johnson is special. But Julio is big, fast, strong, tough. He's got everything you're looking for. Atlanta's automatically a lot better just based on him being back on the field."

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