ATLANTA — Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White is eager to see how opponents defend him now that Atlanta has added rookie wideout Julio Jones.
Trying to cover tight end Tony Gonzalez, flanker Harry Douglas and rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers might wear down Chicago if White matches his single-game career averages and Jones, the NFL’s No. 6 overall draft pick, lives up to his potential in Sunday’s season opener.
“We are confident,” White said Thursday, “but we know these guys aren’t called the Monsters of the Midway for nothing.”
Even though the Falcons’ passing attack has the ability to produce substantial numbers behind two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, White knows that Chicago offers a tough test.
Since 2004, the Bears have the NFL’s most takeaways (235), including 137 interceptions, and are led by a secondary that includes standouts Chris Harris at strong safety and Charles Tillman at cornerback.
Chicago added former Indianapolis starting cornerback Tim Jennings in free agency and hopes that Major Wright is ready to handle the responsibilities at free safety.
Harris, however, missed tackles on touchdowns scored by the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans in the preseason, so the Bears this week signed former Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather after his release from New England.
“There are always people around when someone catches the ball, so you’ve got to make some of those guys miss and break tackles,” White said. “We need some explosive plays against those guys because they keep everything in front of them. You won’t just throw balls over their heads and things like that.”
Jones’ development seems to be going well. Just as he did during the NFL lockout in June and July, Jones still meets nearly every day after practice with Ryan to watch film and the study the playbook.
He is ready to show what he’s learned, but Jones likewise knows that nothing will come as easily as it did during his three years in the Southeastern Conference with Alabama.
“In the SEC, everybody competed and here they’re competing hard, too,” Jones said. “Here, I think it’s more so because it’s their job. That’s how they provide for their families.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff orchestrated a blockbuster trade with Cleveland on draft day, moving up 21 spots to pick Jones.
The move was Atlanta’s acknowledgement that it was predictable and too easy to defend in the playoffs last season, this despite Pro Bowl seasons from Ryan, White, Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner.
White led the NFL with 115 catches and was second with 1,389 yards receiving in 2010. Those numbers set single-season franchise highs, but White knows they weren’t good enough to get him and the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
After earning the NFC’s No. 1 seed, Atlanta was blown out at home in the divisional round, losing to eventual champion Green Bay. The Falcons’ offensive weakness — tying for last in the league with only 44 plays of 20 yards or longer — was exposed.
The arrival of Jones is supposed to help stretch the field and give Ryan a speedy, deep option.
Jones will soon understand, however, that routes close much quicker in the NFL than they do in the SEC.
“At a receiver’s level, I think the only big difference is the windows are harder to catch the balls in,” Douglas said. “The windows are smaller. In the NFL, you have to catch a lot of balls with bodies on you. You’re not as wide-open as you are in college. They disguise coverages a lot better, too.”