ATLANTA – The focal point of theThe offense was surrounded by almost all media on Friday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Just finished practice, and unknowingly had walked into a new role than the tight end did a season ago.
With as much change as the franchise has had on offense this offseason – quarterbackIn Indianapolis, a completely new receiver room was created and his position group underwent large-scale changes. Pitts quickly became a familiar face amongst the unfamiliar in his second year.
That’s in the locker room and on the field, where everything has at least a tinge of prior experience.
“He’s not facing the unknown, right,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “… You see Kyle, you saw him as he progressed through last season, and I’ve said it many times, he’s just scratching the surface.”
Last year’s “surface” for the 2021 No. Fourth overall pick, he had one touchdown, 68 catches, 1,026 yards and was a Pro Bowl player. Mike Ditka, who was inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame, was also the rookie tight end to exceed 1,000 yards.
By season’s end, he emerged as the present, immediate and potentially even far future of the Falcons’ offense. At just 21 years old, he has reached that kind of status, perhaps even more so playing with a new quarterback in 2022 — whether that’s veteranOr rookie . Or, depending on the season, both.
This has been evident in the early practices. Pitts has been more comfortable showing his personality in team-created social media videos and after catching a touchdown pass in Thursday’s OTA from Mariota overHe celebrated his victory by throwing the ball into the air. That might have been possible a year ago. Now. As he meets his new teammates and learns from them, he seems to be open to sharing more.
A veteran teammate is already with him, tight end.Pitts is a mentor to him and he feels he can learn from his mistakes. He also said that playing with Pitts was one of the reasons he decided to move to Atlanta in free agency. He has an offense knowing it’ll lean on him and quarterbacks who won’t be able to help but look his way as the team completely revamps its other pass-catching positions.
And for Pitts himself, he’s in a different place than a year ago, when everything was unfamiliar.
“Just being able to mature a little more,” Pitts said. “I feel like I matured a little bit in my life, on the field, off the field, trying to have it all correlate to be the best player I can be.”
How does that look?
Pitts said he felt like his rookie season was “a good start.” He spent part of the offseason working on his strength to become a more effective blocker, another sign he is committed to being a complete tight end while still being relied on as a primary pass-catcher. But the biggest difference to him isn’t physical.
“Just the mental side, that kind of helps you play faster,” Pitts said. “When you know what you’re doing, when you know what the defense is doing, just be able to be the best player you are.”
Firkser has been a source of help for him. Firkser is a newer player in Atlanta than Pitts but he has spent more time working with Smith and the offense. Smith and Firkser were reunited with theSmith was the tight-ends coach in 2018 and the offensive coordinator for 2019 and 2020 at this location.
Pitts joked he has asked Firkser questions “almost every other play” in an attempt to understand more nuance in Smith’s offense. Firkser, meanwhile, can pick up things from merely watching Pitts’ top-end talent as the two of them try to figure out how to work together as potentially Atlanta’s top two tight ends.
Pitts is a great player in an offense with so many new elements.Or rookie . He was the one learning everything a year back. Now, he’s in a situation where he may end up being the one leading.
“That’s something I want to try and work towards, to be one of the top leaders on the team, on the offense as well,” Pitts said. “That’s something that this offseason I want to go into and watch behind Marcus and Jake [Matthews] for all vet guys to learn how leaders are made.
“I feel like I’m slowly starting to step in the shoes.”