Hannah Foslien / Stringer
For all of the hubbub regarding the recent injury notes on Julio Jones, the fact is he remains arguably the best wide receiver in the entire NFL. He’s now off to prove that for the Tennessee Titans instead of the Atlanta Falcons, with the latter garnering draft picks from the former in exchange for the future Hall of Fame receiver. Matt Ryan noted ahead of the trade that he “doesn’t know” what the Falcons offense would look like without Jones, but Russell Gage is hoping to help the team figure it out quickly.
“I understand my role may have increased, but I’m ready for it,” Gage said, via the team’s website. “We’re going to keep moving forward.”
Jones’ shoes will be difficult to fill, to say the least, and will likely take a collective effort that includes not only Gage, but also rookie fourth-overall pick Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley. Considering the Falcons are parting ways with a receiver who gave them 12,896 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns on 1,320 targets, yes, the young receiving corps has its work cut out for it.
But Gage is looking to use everything he learned from Jones to aid in his efforts.
“There’s no better teacher than the game,” Gage said. “Being out there and taking those reps really helped me to settle in, settle into those spots, the Z or X position or whatever it may be. I’m going to take a lot of that stuff and carry it over into this year. … Being on the same page as Matt [Ryan] and understanding what (coach) Arthur (Smith) wants is big. Those things come hand in hand.
“When you get to playing faster, it’s all because you are more comfortable, and you know, this is what they want out of me.”
The former sixth-round pick took a big step in Year 3 for the Falcons, reeling in 340 more receiving yards and four more touchdowns than the season prior. He also has the added motivation of entering the final year of his rookie deal, so if he wants to secure a future in Atlanta — it starts right now.