(Over the offseason, we’ll take a look at each of the position groups. Today, we look at the wide receivers.)
FLOWERY BRANCH – All-Pro Julio Jones had already taken over as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, but in 2016 he must fill the leadership vacuum created by the release of Roddy White, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver.
“Now, for the younger guys, I’m the guy to look up to and I’m willing to teach guys,” Jones said. “I learned a lot from Roddy about being a great teammate, about bringing other guys, the young guys, with you and showing them the right way to go out here and play the game of football.”
White, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver in catches (808), yards (10,863) and touchdowns (63), was released in March.
The Falcons replaced him by signing Mohamed Sanu in free agency. Jones has been helping him learn Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system.
“It’s a lot different from what we ran in Cincinnati, but with a lot of key similarities,” Sanu said. “I’m just trying to learn those differences and master them as fast as I can so that I can get accustomed to them.”
Sanu, 26, has caught 61 percent (152 of 249) of his targets in four seasons with the Bengals. He has amassed 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sanu was selected in the third-round (83rd overall) of the 2012 draft. He was lured to the Falcons with a five-year, $32.5 million contract.
“Sanu, they kind of overpaid him, but they had to for what they needed as a No. 2 receiver,” a high ranking NFL personnel man told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s a good receiver. He’s not a great receiver. With what they had, they had to get somebody.”
Sanu believes he’ll eventually fit well into the Falcons’ offense.
“I can do a lot of different things well,” Sanu said. “I can line up all over the field. I just feel like I can be utilized inside, outside or in the backfield or wherever I’m needed to make this offense as best as it can be.”
Sanu, a former high school quarterback, has completed five of five passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the NFL.
The Falcons haven’t installed the flanker-reverse-pass yet.
“It’s very new, but if the opportunity comes, I’m going to take advantage of it,” Sanu said. “I’m very ready.”
Justin Hardy, a second-year player from East Carolina, and Aldrick Robinson have the inside tracks for the No. 3 and No. 4 wide receiver slots.
Jones believes the offense is going to throw more deep passes in 2016.
“We are going to take a lot more chances and shots down the field,” he said.
Jones believes that having speedy Robinson will help the deep passing game.
“Aldrick Robinson is another speedy, down-the-field guy,” Jones said. “He can go get the ball where ever it’s at. He’s up to speed as well. He’s got great hand and can go get the ball.”
While the Falcons want to go deep more, Shanahan doesn’t want to force the ball into coverage.
“You always look at that after each game, when did you have (a one-on-one deep opportunity) and when did you not,” Shanahan said. “Explosive plays, I think this will be my ninth year calling plays, it’s really never been an issue. We didn’t get as many last year.”
Most teams tend to double-cover Jones, which may free Robinson as an option.
Special teamer Eric Weems is back while returner Devin Hester is trying to make it back from offseason toe/foot surgery.
11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie, 12 Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 85 J.D. McKissic, 89 Daje Johnson, 7 David Glidden
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