A year ago, it would be fair to say that Julio Jones and Steve Sarkisian were not best buddies, for reasons that had nothing to do with them failing to bond over their mutual love of musicals. Julio was recovering from a toe injury and was brought along slowly in training camp and preseason, while Sarkisian was a first-time NFL offensive coordinator trying to step into the shoes that Kyle Shanahan left in Flowery Branch for some reasons.
The strength of the relationship was not the reason Julio ultimately struggled to secure touchdowns last year. It was also not the reason that Sark called so many weird and unproductive plays. But there’s also plenty of reason to think that the two having a better understanding of one another and a better connection will translate into better things for this offense in 2018. That’s the premise of D. Orlando Ledbetter’s latest in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It contains this perceptive quote from Julio:
Without a doubt because it’s Year 2,” Jones said. “We are going to have a better relationship. We are going to know each other a little better because him coming in, he had to come right in and everybody had so much hype, stress and pressure and things like that. At the end of the day, I don’t know how he took it.”
This is something that shifted my perspective on Sark a little bit, because it is true that he was subject to a nearly constant barrage of criticism all throughout 2017 as both a first-time play caller in this league and a recovering alcoholic. That’s not an easy thing to navigate, and it tells you a lot about his character despite his very obvious shortcomings in his job last season.
The big advantage of a year under the belt, as Sark puts it in this piece, is that he’s more comfortable with what his weapons can do, especially Julio. For his part, Jones feels more confident in his ability to go out, show out and have Sark get him the ball. The team has spent a lot of time on the red zone, too, which was both an overall weakness last year and an area in which both Julio and Sark appeared to struggle.
“What we have been doing here is every day, just working on the red zone,” Jones said. “Trying to get better every day. Seeing different looks every day. If we are getting pressed down there, zone or anything like that. Everybody can make a play down there so we’ve been trying work everybody in the red zone and let those guys work their one-on-one matchups. So, it’s the best matchup.”
Ultimately, I’m flat out expecting better production from Julio, especially inside the 20. Sark and Jones may not wind up playing Fortnite together or anything, but a better comfort level and more open lines of communication can’t hurt two men who will be extremely responsible for any offensive improvement this unit enjoys in 2018.