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Arthur Smith says Dante Fowler will be at mandatory minicamp, says little about Julio Jones

We’re less than a week away from mandatory minicamp, which is worth getting excited about regardless of whether Julio’s there.

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NFL: Altanta Falcons OTA Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the headline out of the way: We have no idea whether Julio Jones will be at mandatory minicamp starting on June 8. We do know that trade talks are ongoing and there’s been plenty of reporting that the team and receiver aren’t exactly holding hands and singing around a campfire, so it’s fair to be skeptical about whether he’ll actually show up.

Arthur Smith walked into his Wednesday press conference knowing darn well that he’d be fielding plenty of Julio questions, and his answer about minicamp and #11 was exactly as vague and upbeat as you’d expect, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.

“We have conversations all the time with all our players and there’s good communication back and forth, multiple avenues,” Smith said. “So we’ll see what happens next week, where we’re at, you know. I can answer that for you next week.”

Until Julio is traded or the team indicates they’re not moving him, his every move will continue to be of interest to reporters and increasingly weary fans, so expect a fresh update next week when he does or does not show. In the meantime, we’re past June 1 and the team can move him at any time for cap relief if they find a partner, so there’s little to do but wait for that deal to materialize. He is not, in case you were wondering, at OTAs today.

But there’s a lot more going on with the Falcons than Julio, and minicamp starting next Tuesday is a milestone worth looking ahead to. Arthur Smith seemed confident that Dante Fowler will be there, at the very least, and some of the OTA story lines like Fabian Moreau getting time at outside cornerback and Josh Andrews figuring in prominently at left guard will be worth monitoring. It’s not exactly a great surprise that Fowler’s going to be there, but it’s still nice to know.

There are, conservatively, at least a half dozen starting jobs up for grabs between left guard, center, multiple spots along the defensive line, two spots at corner, and safety, not to mention the punt returner and even punter gigs, and we’ll get an early look at those next week.

Beyond that, there’s the possibility of Marlon Davidson delivering on his potential in his second season (Smith said he was “really happy how Marlon has progressed”), Fowler rebounding after a tough 2020, and Hayden Hurst building on his first season in Atlanta to help lift this offense alongside Kyle Pitts, not to mention the prospect of seeing more of what Pitts can and will do against NFL defenders.

Regardless of what happens with #11 in the coming days, in other words, we’re drawing closer to the substance of the summer for the Atlanta Falcons, with the season less than 100 days away and practices, training camp and preseason all ahead of us. It’s been a while since we were legitimately excited about the prospect of Falcons football, and so we’ll welcome minicamp and everything that comes after it with open arms.