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Julio Jones: Improved communication key for Falcons on offense

Quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and receiver Julio Jones say they expect Atlanta's offense to improve this season. "I think we understand who we are better than we did at this point last year," Ryan said Tuesday. AP Photo/Todd Kirkland

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As the Atlanta Falcons concluded Tuesday's session of organized team activities, a group consisting of top receiver Julio Jones, quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Dan Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and wide receiver Justin Hardy huddled on a far field, engaged in an extended conversation.

The details of the discussion were not disclosed, but Jones offered a hint about the topic when he brought up his offseason chat with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

"Kyle sat us down, one by one, and then talked to us as a whole, but his biggest thing is communication," Jones said. "We were everywhere (last season). Our job is to make sure we're on the same page with the quarterbacks, because Kyle, he's coaching the quarterbacks. He's coaching all of us, but if he's telling the quarterbacks one thing and our receivers coach is telling us another thing, we're going to kind of be off.

"We're going out here and we're executing properly and we're executing the right things. But if the quarterback's off and we're off ... we've got to go out there and make it come to life. That's what we just have to do a better job of. We just had another little meeting here after practice. Quarterbacks, receivers, everybody, we've just got to do a better job of communicating."

Jones was asked if communication was one of the downfalls last season during the first year in Shanahan's offense.

"Basically, I think that was our biggest thing, just communication," Jones said.

Ryan, who admitted being a bit overwhelmed by the offense last season, would be the first to say communication has improved already. Maybe it has something to do with three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack now orchestrating things on the offensive line.

"Alex has been great," Ryan said. "He's been fantastic. Obviously a veteran guy who has been around a number of systems, including this one for a year with Kyle in Cleveland. He's a pro. He has picked up things really quickly. Great communicator, which is important on the offensive line in getting those guys on the same page. And he's been really good for us."

Maybe it has to do with Ryan having a better feel for Shanahan's playbook. Year 2 in the system will help everyone, with Ryan relaying the plays from Shanahan, the wide receivers and running backs understanding the routes, formations, and motions better, and the line being on more solid footing.

"You iron out some of the kinks as you go through a new system, and you figure out how people fit in it, and also what's worked well for us," Ryan said. "Within the NFL, teams are constantly changing, and personnel is constantly changing. You have to be able to adapt. I think we've done a really good job with that."

Shanahan made it clear he is open to suggestions from any player, even if others have suggested that he tunes people out. So has Ryan approached Shanahan about changing things up at all?

"I think that's an ongoing thing," Ryan said, referring back to the central theme of communication. "I think that was something that, as we learned each other last year, we evolved a lot. When you have a chance to get back and review the season and take a look at some of the things that we do well and things that we didn't do well, I think it's been open dialogue since Day 1. And I think it's been really good.

"I feel like we both have a better understanding of who we are as a team, understanding our guys -- what our strengths are. That's one of the best parts of being in Year 2 in a system is that you have some of that experience to fall back on, good and bad. And I think we're going to be better for that."

Has the daily approach to practice changed at all?

"I think we're very different than we were last year," Ryan said. "I think we understand who we are better than we did at this point last year. There was a lot of feeling out that goes on when a new staff comes in. You have new players, all those kind of things. You're trying to find out what fits, what fits wells. And I think we're way ahead of that this year, and I think it's been really good this offseason."