Falcons' Julio Jones moves closer to return from toe injury

CHARLES ODUM (AP Sports Writer)
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) slips a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Daryl Smith (51) during the third quarter of an NFL football game, in Tampa, Fla. A healthy Julio Jones could provide the boost the Falcons need as they try to win the NFC South. After missing two games with a sprained toe, Jones is expected to try to run full speed on Wednesday as he tries to return in Saturday's game at Carolina. (AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack, File)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones moved closer to his return from a toe injury by joining full-speed drills in Wednesday's practice.

Jones has missed two straight games with a sprained toe. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Jones ran full speed but only in limited parts of the session.

''It was his first time back in a few weeks,'' Shanahan said. ''You don't want him to just take all the reps. We were being careful with him and hopefully he'll be able to go on Sunday.''

Despite missing two games, Jones still leads the NFL with 1,253 yards receiving. That fact surprised even Jones.

''I didn't know I was leading the league,'' he said. ''Man, I don't know. ... There are definitely great receivers out there.''

Jones has averaged 17.4 yards on his 72 catches, his top average since his 2011 rookie season. He was named to his third straight Pro Bowl team , and fourth overall, on Tuesday.

The Falcons (9-5) hope Jones plays in their final two regular-season games as they try to clinch the NFC South division. Atlanta plays at Carolina on Saturday.

The Falcons have only solidified their standing as the NFL's top-scoring offense in two lopsided wins without Jones.

With Jones watching from the sideline, the Falcons beat San Francisco 41-13 on Sunday to set a team record with 468 points. He also missed the previous week's 42-14 win at the Rams.

Even so, Jones' return could be crucial against NFC South opponents Carolina and New Orleans to close the regular season.

''If we can get Julio back, that's a big plus for us,'' coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday.

Jones set a franchise record with 300 yards receiving on 12 catches in Atlanta's 48-33 win over Carolina on Oct. 2.

T.Y. Hilton of Indianapolis is second in the league with 1,248 yards while playing all 14 games.

Quinn said Jones' ability to maintain the NFL lead in yards receiving despite missing two games is ''indicative of the type of year he's having.''

Quinn insisted he did not hold out Jones the last two weeks in order to make sure he'd be ready to play against division opponents. Jones traveled with the team to Los Angeles two weeks ago before being declared inactive following pregame warmups.

''It was more of when we could get him back to doing what he does,'' Quinn said.

There were no full-speed drills in the portions of practice open to reporters on Wednesday. Shanahan indicated Jones ran well in his limited snaps.

''We got him out there a little more today at a faster tempo today than we did yesterday,'' Shanahan said. ''He's still limited, not being able to do everything, but we definitely feel better with where he is today than where he was last week.''

Jones said it is important to be healthy for a possible playoff run.

''One game at a time but you've also got to look at maybe the postseason,'' he said. ''You don't want to do anything to maybe push that and hurt myself and not be out there for my brothers.''

Jones said he'll play when he can ''go out there and be me.''

''I've just got to go out there and fly around,'' he said, adding Quinn otherwise ''is not going to let me go. He wants me 100 percent moving around and doing what I do.''

Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (concussion) and tight end Austin Hooper (left knee) did not practice.

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