First look: Julio Jones sharp, energized as he began building relationship with Ryan Tannehill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The preface is mandatory: It just an organized team activity, with no hitting, with no tight coverage, with no real meaning. 

But pull back from the sidelines of the Tennessee Titans' practice facility in MetroCenter to the symbolism and there is much more significance.JulioJonesCatch3GW

Pool photo: George Walker, The Tennessean

Julio Jones drew plenty of attention, just not from cornerbacks gearing up to stop him at all costs. Every cell phone and camera was aimed at him for the early portion of practice fully open to the media. 

Mike Vrabel and Josh Reynolds answered questions predominantly about Jones, who himself spoke for the first time since he was dealt to the Titans.

Jones’ first work with the team was the NFL event of the day and the Titans' event of the off-season.

And in the context of the session, he looked as one would hope: Fast, sharp, fit, healthy, energized.

One moment, in particular, struck me.

His health is paramount now. Jones said he tried to come back too fast from last year’s hamstring problem when he missed nine games. That he came to a voluntary minicamp practice and intends to be at next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp next week is huge.

Because the biggest thing for a Hall of Fame wideout heading into his 11th season is establishing a rapport with just the second NFL quarterback of his career. Matt Ryan missed just one start during Jones’ 10 seasons in Atlanta.

Now he’s got a relationship to build with Ryan Tannehill and nobody knows how long it will take for them to feel fully comfortable reading each other.

Jones said they hung out already, going out to dinner and talking.

“I don’t think it’s going to take no time at all,” he said. “He’s a veteran player, I’m a veteran player. We’ve just got to go out there and it’s just repetition at the end of the day really. Just going out there and you know, “This is where I want it at, put it here” and where he wants me at, can I get there?

“It’s just us working together. At the end of the day, as long as we’re on the same page, we’re going to be successful.”

There should be a lot of favorable defensive coverage. He spoke about defenses picking their poison in terms of deciding how many defenders to being forward to stop Derrick Henry and the price they will pay for that with him and A.J. Brown.

The NFL player with the record for the highest average receiving yards per game (95.6) is unconcerned with targets and preoccupied with doing his part to assure the team of winning. And while Tannehill’s jersey number 17 doesn’t quite fit in, Jones spoke of how his new No. 2 fits in with Brown’s 11 (add up those 1s) and Henry’s 22 (two 11s) tying them all together.

Josh Reynolds was limited last week in OTAs and just got back up to speed this week. Like Jones, he is building a relationship with Tannehill after spending his first four years with Jared Goff.

“Just kind of working on our timing, see how he likes a route run, how long my strides are compared to some other guys,” Reynolds said. “Those are things you’ve got to work on and build rapport with.”

Mike Vrabel doesn’t think it will be that different for Tannehill and Jones than it is for, say DeShone Kizer, the third-string quarterback, and Racey McMath, a sixth-round receiver when he first arrived.

“There is a play that gets installed,” Vrabel said. "You talk about man, zone. You talk about spacing or running a route. But at the end of the day, if I’m a receiver, I’m going to be where the quarterback wants me to be when he needs me to be there. So that’s my message to (receivers): figure out quickly where the quarterback wants you to be and get there and if you get the ball take advantage of your opportunity.


Pool photo: George Walker, The Tennessean

“I think the only way that (Jones and Tannehill) do that is by practicing, by meeting, by having conversations. No different than what we would have any of our quarterbacks or wide receivers do when they are coming in here for the first time.”

The first pass of the offense’s period against a show defense, Jones took big, fast strides that gobbled up yards against a small offensive player wearing a vest to distinguish himself as a “defender,” and streaked for a mid-range catch over the middle.

During a special teams period, he stayed with the quarterbacks but talked mostly with Todd Downing and Rob Moore while equipment men were the spot targets and catchers, as per usual.

The catch as one of the five eligibles working out of formations described in the tweet above came next.

During another special teams’ period, Jones caught a couple of Tannehill passes just doing the last piece of a route. He brushed off of Downing and ran to the spot to collect a few throws on the left. Then did the same on the right without the coach. The first throw to the middle seemed to get on him quickly and he let it fly off his hands before correcting whatever went awry and collecting the second.

The total picture wasn’t a lot. But between what we were allowed to share from the receiver period (videos above) and what took place after, his late, quick hands, his fast feet and his excellent sense of football geometry were all on display.

apple icon 114x114 precomposedOne player joked with the team photographer during conditioning sprints at the end that there was more than one guy out there. The picture-taker responded that he shot everybody. And he did, in fact, post a thorough album on a day when most of us were far more singularly focused, and quite reasonably so.

“I think there is just excitement from everybody,” Vrabel said. “You guys (in the media) are unseasonably pleasant today as well. I think our fans are excited. Our organization is excited.

"But we have to get to work. We have to put the work in. And that’s what it comes down to in this business. It’s not about what you have done. It’s about what you are willing to do, what you will do. And I’m confident that Julio has begun that process.”

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