FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones says their offense could be unstoppable in 2013.
With two of the league’s best wideouts already in the huddle for Atlanta, the run and pass-catching threat that free-agent pickup Steven Jackson adds out of the backfield was just the missing piece.
With the experience on board in the Falcons’ offense, and the buzz created with the addition of Jackson from St. Louis, there’s no reason to believe it won’t be at least one of the league’s best with Matt Ryan under center, a bevy of great wide receivers and Tony Gonzalez coming back for his final season at tight end.
“You can’t stop this offense,” said Jones, who caught passes for 1,198 yards in 2012. “We have so many weapons on this team.
“As far as me, Roddy, Tony, and you add Steven coming out of the backfield, who can do it all. He can run downhill and also stretch the defense laterally.”
Jackson, who spent his first nine years playing with the Rams and appeared in three Pro Bowls, has all the potential to be a game-change at running back, while also providing an upgrade at the position since the departure of Michael Turner.
Falcons coach Mike Smith likes most that Jackson gives the offense the ability to greatly expand play calling without having to switch the personnel on the field.
Jackson is a do-it-all kind of back, going over 1,000 yards rushing each of the last eight seasons. He’s had only one season in that time with fewer than 40 receptions.
The new Atlanta back is a load to take down at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds. Jackson’s pickup through free agency, and praise heaved on him in offseason training activities, was probably last met in terms of enthusiasm when the Falcons traded for former defensive end John Abraham in 2006.
“Steven has a track record that speaks for itself,” Smith said. “He had 90 catches in a season, so that threat is something the defense will have to concern itself with.”
The addition of Jackson, who topped 10,000 career-rushing yards last season, has made the rest of the skill players on offense better too, according to second-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Jackson’s backups, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, have displayed improvement, while Bradie Ewing has also made strides.
On the edge, receiver Harry Douglas is also showing he’s a good complement to Jones and While, catching nearly 40 passes in each of the last two years.
“I know they plan on using me in multi-faceted ways and creating mismatches, not just running between the tackles, but also show my receiving skills,” Jackson said. “If they continue to double team our receivers, I’ll be able to make more plays.”
Jackson is only worried right now about picking up on all his plays and assignments. He’s a bit behind in the terminology and comfort understanding the playbook on an offense loaded with veteran stars.
“Matt (Ryan) is so advanced in this offense, been playing here for a number of years,” Jackson said. “He’s forgetting I still have my training wheels on and still learning all the verbiage.
“I just have to stay on top of the playbook in my spare time.”
On the offensive line, Koetter wants to let the competition play out to see which players will start. He’s not going to name favorites during May workouts, which are still completely voluntary. The biggest hole is at center where Todd McClure left after retiring following the 2012 season.
The leading candidate to take the job is 2012 second-round pick Peter Konz, who will likely shift back over to his natural position, according to Smith, after starting 10 times at guard as a rookie.
Garrett Reynolds will also likely move into a starting role on the line, while Lamar Holmes, Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson are going to attempt to move up from past jobs as backups.
Not only does Jones see the offense being unstoppable, but he thinks it’s also ready to make the next step toward the first Super Bowl for any of the current members of the Falcons.
“We can’t put a cap on how good we can be, that would be selling ourselves short,” Jones said. “The sky’s the limit for this team, we just have to go out there and continue to play Falcons football.”