OMG. KYLE. PITTS.
That was the Twitter post from the official Atlanta Falcons account Tuesday along with video of impressive grab by the team’s first-round pick during training camp.
In the footage, quarterback Matt Ryan throws a high pass that Pitts and cornerback Fabian Moreau battle for in traffic. As Pitts pulls down the ball, Moreau’s leg flails up to break up the pass briefly before Pitts snags it with one hand for a catch.
“It’s no secret, he's a huge target and God knows what the expectation is for him and it's good to see him make those plays,” first-year Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “You got to make them in practice and you build them up to make them in the games. It was encouraging to see him make those plays that we expect him to make.”
Those are the type of plays the Falcons hope become frequent for Pitts, selected No. 4 overall — the highest draft position ever for a tight end. While the 6-foot-6, 246-pounder is a tight end by label, he will be employed as a wide receiver with his unique skillset at his size.
His presence fills the void left by Julio Jones’ departure to the Tennessee Titans.
“(Pitts) has done a really good job,” Smith said. “Everything we're asking him, we're trying to bring him along the right way. When you draft somebody that high, there's a lot of expectations going on them. It's a long journey, and it's so hard for some of these guys to focus in the present – day-to-day – because there's unbelievable expectations thrown on him. He's got to understand the big picture and just progress every day and understand it will naturally happen if he comes along the way we think he will.
“I think sometimes these guys they get in, not Kyle, but you could see it, everything's outside, social media, and it's like, ‘Alright, well, if you don't have 300 yards the first game,’ you got to eliminate that noise and understand there’s a big picture. It's not just a hot take Week 1 because it's a really long season and hopefully he has a really long career too.”
Pitts was a first-team All-American and the Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end last year as a junior at Florida after catching 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games.
Jarrett brings energy to defense
While there have been considerable changes with a new head coach and general manager, one constant hasn’t been surprising.
Former Rockdale County star Grady Jarrett, a Pro Bowl defensive lineman the past two seasons, continues to be a veteran leader and playmaker on defense.
“You know Grady brings it every day,” Smith said. “That's why he's a real pro. There's nothing fake about Grady. He practices hard and everything he does, he walks the walk, everything you want from a guy that's a leader, true leader, authentic up there, and he sets the tone because he's out there practicing and practicing hard. Pleased with Marlon (Davidson). Marlon pushed through (Wednesday). He's made progress, all those guys T.Q. (Ta’Quon Graham), Bullard (Jonathan Bullard), they're all fighting through.”
Jarrett, 28, has 288 tackles and 25 1/2 sacks in his first six NFL seasons, as well as three sacks of Tom Brady in the Falcons’ Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.
McCarron steps into vital backup role
Matt Ryan’s reliability means few, if any snaps, for any other Falcons quarterback during the regular season and playoffs.
Ryan posted the fifth-longest streak in NFL history with 154 straight starts from 2009 to 2019 before missing a single game with an ankle sprain. He started all 16 games last season.
That said, Ryan is 36 and in his 14th season, making the team’s No. 2 quarterback more important than ever. A.J. McCarron, the 30-year-old former Alabama star, was signed in the offseason to fill that void. McCarron and Feleipe Franks, a rookie from Arkansas, join Ryan as the three quarterbacks on the Falcons training camp roster.
“There's a lot that goes into being a backup quarterback, and he's got to earn the No. 2 job,” Smith said of McCarron. “The thing is when you get into season you are one play away from being the starter. It's hard because you don't get as many reps when the season starts. So, he needs those reps now. He’ll need them in the preseason, and then Feleipe will be given the chance, too. Nothing's going to be given to him.
“But, that is a very tough role in the NFL because you don't get a lot of reps, and you're expected – I mean it could be the first play of the game or it could be the last and you know the game is on the line – they’ve got to be ready to roll. That's the job we expect him to earn and run with.”
McCarron, a fifth-round choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014, previously played in 17 career games for the Bengals, Raiders and Texans. He has career numbers of 109 of 174 passing (62.6 percent) for 1,173 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He appeared in two games for the Texans last year, completing one pass for 20 yards.