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Falcons' Julio Jones Tries To Emulate Jerry Rice's Work Ethic


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Vaughn McClure,
ESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was born in 1989, so he wasn't even around yet when Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice caught a then-NFL record 22 touchdowns for San Francisco during the 1987 season.

Jones was 15 when Rice played his final game in January 2005 at age 42.

Jones is more than aware of Rice's greatness from his peak years in San Francisco. In fact, Jones saw it up close coming out of high school in Alabama.

Jerry Rice vs. Julio Jones

Jerry Rice is a Hall of Famer, and Atlanta receiver Julio Jones is on pace to reach Canton, too. As Jones gets ready for his 58th NFL game against Rice's former team, the 49ers, here is a comparison of each player after 57 games:

Jerry Rice Julio Jones
Receptions 251 348
Rec Yds. 4,711 5,222
Rec TDs. 48 32
Note: Rice had 4 rush TDs, Jones has none.

"I was on a 7-on-7 team with him down at Florida State," Jones said of Rice. "He caught a slant or something, fell to the ground, and then he got up and ran. He just took off. That amazed me. It was the level of respect that I had for him because there's a number of athletes out here in the world and a lot of people who are very gifted with God-given talent, but don't have the work ethic. He had the work ethic. That's what amazed me and drew me to Jerry Rice."

Rice played 20 NFL seasons, including 16 with the 49ers, before finishing up with the Raiders and Seahawks. He holds the NFL record for career receptions (1,549) and touchdown receptions (197). A tribute to him is sure to one day hang inside two-year-old Levi's Stadium, the place where Jones and the Falcons will visit Sunday for the first time.

"Julio has the same work ethic that I did," Rice said "He has great size and speed and is very intelligent on the field. I had a chance to see him run routes when he was in high school and was very impressed. Julio's a hard worker, and it has been fun to watch him become one of the league's best receivers."

Jones, who played at the University of Alabama, used to watch film of Rice in college.

"I watched a little bit, but I read a lot of his stories and what he did running the hills," Jones said. "It wasn't so much about his talent; it was all about his work ethic. You can have all the talent in the world, but it's the ability to go out there every day and try to get better. And that's the key to being successful and being successful for a long time."

Jones, now in his fifth season, appears well on his way to establishing the same type of hard-working reputation to go along with his exceptional talent. The Falcons certainly expect him to go down as one of the greatest receivers of all-time.

Does Jones consider Rice the greatest receiver ever?

"I mean, it's an opinion," Jones said. "There are a lot of greats who have played this position. But I'm just saying as far as his work ethic, I've seen it. When you look at Jerry, he wasn't the fastest guy. He wasn't the quickest guy. He was none of that. What took him to that level is he had that work ethic."


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