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2nd-year players catching up in Falcons camp

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith conducts NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith conducts NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a pass during NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Rookies are not the only Falcons players going through their first minicamp this week.

This also is the first offseason program for such second-year players as receiver Julio Jones and running back Jacquizz Rodgers who had no minicamp or organized team activities last year because of the NFL lockout.

Jones, Rodgers and other second-year players are making up for lost time with lessons with their position coaches that began with OTAs in May.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he's expecting to see the 2011 draft picks mature quickly.

"It's great to have Julio here in the offseason program," Smith said. "Last year was very unique because we didn't have an offseason program. We anticipate his maturation process is going to go real quick. The arrow is just going up and up with him and I think with all of our second-year players."

Some 2011 rookies played key roles despite missing the normal summer preparation.

Rodgers was the team's second-leading rusher in 2011 even though he said he wasn't confident he knew all the plays until almost halfway through the season.

"I would say probably like Week 5 or 6 is when you started feeling comfortable, because it's different from the practice to the game," Rodgers said.

Jones, last year's first-round draft pick from Alabama, missed three games but still had 54 catches for 959 yards and tied for the team lead with eight touchdown receptions.

Jones said he never allowed himself to wonder how much better his rookie season might have been with the benefit of a traditional offseason.

"I'm a competitor. I don't think it was that hard for me, as far as going out and competing and that aspect of the game," Jones said Wednesday. "But as far as the timing and everything, you can't make that up. Either you have that timing or you don't, and I didn't have that timing last year."

Now, with OTAs and the minicamp, Jones said he can tell a difference after a full offseason with quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers coach Terry Robiskie. Ryan found Jones for long passes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It's great, not only spending time with Robiskie but with Matt, connecting on balls and everything and just knowing where I'm supposed to be, the right depth and everything," Jones said. "It's very critical for me.

"The past is the past. You're just looking forward to the upcoming season and trying to go out there and play football and play fast and just have that confidence me and my quarterback are going to be on the same page this year."

First-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said he was amazed rookies moved into crucial roles across the NFL last season, including in Jacksonville, where his Jaguars' offense struggled with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville finished last in total offense and in yards passing and 29th with 15.2 points per game.

"All rookies who had to play last year, that was an unbelievable stress on those guys," Koetter said Wednesday. "For those guys to do what they did was impressive. Obviously, having an OTA and minicamp and being able to be coached by their position coaches, you can see it in those guys' performance out here.