ATLANTA – Arthur Smith delivered a frank answer when asked about entering his first season as the Atlanta Falcons' coach without Julio Jones.
“I don’t worry about players I never coached,” Smith said following Tuesday's opening day of mandatory minicamp.
Jones was traded to Tennessee on Sunday in a move that allowed the financially strapped Falcons to clear the salary cap space needed to sign this year's draft picks.
Jones, 32, left as the Falcons' all-time leader in catches and receiving yards. He stood with quarterback Matt Ryan as the faces of the franchise for a decade. Like Ryan, he was a popular leader both on and off the field.
Smith, the former Titans offensive coordinator, recognized that a player with Jones' Hall of Fame credentials merits a sendoff with compliments.
Smith said he has “a lot of respect and appreciation for what he did here. I wish him well at Tennessee. My main concern is our roster and getting us ready to go for this fall.”
Jones' trade to the Titans was not a surprise. Even so, the first practice without the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver felt different to his former teammates.
“I just have a ton of respect for Julio and all the amazing things he’s accomplished in his career and for the team,” right guard Chris Lindstrom said. “I’m just thankful for the interactions I had with Julio. He was a great teammate and a great role model in the locker room.”