Falcons begin post-Julio Jones era in Smith's first minicamp

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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws a baseball into a net as head coach Arthur Smith looks on during the team's mini camp football practice Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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.”