"Julio is participating with our athletic performance department," Smith said according to ESPN. "He will be able to get out on the field and do some walkthrough stuff with us when we start going. Our focus on Julio is one thing, and that's having him prepared for our opener. ... We're not going to do anything to hinder his timeframe in terms of getting back to work with us."
Jones was on pace for 130 catches and just under 1,900 receiving yards when he fractured his foot last season.
“He’s ahead of schedule," Smith said. "Julio’s started his running program with the athletic performance department. We anticipate he’ll be ready to go 100 percent. We’ll get him going at some point in time here in the offseason. We’ll be very careful. Our No. 1 goal is to have him ready to participate in training camp.”
"Whenever you talk about a special player in the division on a team, things change automatically,’’ Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith told ESPN.com. "You just look at all that Julio brings to the table. Look at this toughness. Yeah, it’s easy to talk about him as a receiver, catching the ball and all that. But man, this is a tough guy.
"He’s just a special talent. There are some special receivers in the league. Of course, Calvin Johnson is special. But Julio is big, fast, strong, tough. He’s got everything you’re looking for. Atlanta’s automatically a lot better just based on him being back on the field.’’
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told the website that Jones' return "does change things. So he’s back, and they’re as dangerous as ever."
In five games, Jones caught 41 passes for 581 yards and two touchdowns.
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