FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts could form a formidable receiving tandem.
That was the plan when the Falcons selected London with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 draft, a year after taking Pitts with the fourth overall pick.
London and Pitts are set to take the field together when the Falcons host the Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
London worked with quarterback Desmond Ridder over the final four games last season, but Pitts was out after sustaining a knee injury against the Bears on Oct. 20.
“Of course, we are more than excited to have (Pitts) back,” London said. “So, we’re really excited to have him, have (rookie running back Bijan Robinson) out there. Yeah, we’re ready to go ball.”
The Falcons closely monitored Pitts’ workload over the offseason and in training camp. Surgery was needed to repair his knee.
Pitts had a spectacular rookie season playing with veteran quarterback Matt Ryan. He caught 68 of 110 targets for 1,026 yards and a touchdown as rookie in 17 games of action. He threatened Mike Ditka’s mark of 1,076 yards, which was set over 14 games in 1961.
Last season, with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, Pitts caught 28 of 59 targets for 356 yards and two touchdowns over 11 games.
“(Pitts) had a productive camp,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “There are a lot of things when you’re coming off of injury, the same thing with TQ (defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham). Again, as you are trying to build the entire team up, individually as you’re getting ready for Week 1. Unless you’ve played every snap in the (exhibition) season, I don’t know many people that are going to be truly 100% (and) ready for 65 snaps.”
Pitts played nine snaps in the second exhibition game, the 13-13 tie with the Bengals on Aug. 18. He caught his only target for 9 yards.
“It felt great, going back and competing with the guys in a game situation,” Pitts said. “Going against other people and just having that feeling again.”
It appeared that he was running well and at near his top speed. He also didn’t mind getting tackled.
“I’ve been hit and practice and a fell (down) a couple of times, so I was ready for it,” Pitts said.
The Falcons averaged 158.8 yards passing per game last season, which ranked 31st in the league. Pitts believes the passing game will come along.
“Just if we execute as a team and come together as all 11, just push the ball down the field, we’ll be able to make something work,” Pitts said. “That was just our first step in a game situation with all of us out there.”
Despite not playing a lot in the exhibition season, Pitts is confident the Falcons will be ready for the regular season.
“Just executing and going out there and showing the world what we can do,” Pitts said.
Smith wanted to make sure Pitts had the correct return-to-play plan after his surgery.
“That’s always the name of the game,” Smith said. “There is a fine line there. A lot goes into Week 1. But everything that we’ve done to try to build up to this point, we feel good about where we are at. We’ve had a productive camp.”
One of the bonuses of playing Ridder over the last four games was that he developed a good relationship with London. Ridder targeted London 11, nine, nine and nine times in his starts. London caught 25 of the 36 targets for 333 yards, including an 120-yard game in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.
The Falcons have been working on timing their passing attack.
“It’s just reps,” London said. “Day in and day out, keep on getting those reps and stay dialed in with Desmond.”
London had a strong rookie season. He caught 72 of 117 targets for 866 yards and four touchdowns.
London is ready to see what he and Pitts can do to opposing secondaries.
“Whatever comes my way, I’ve got to catch it,” London said. “Whatever type of help (that I can give) blocking or whatever it is, I’m going to try to do it. Just try to be 100% in whatever I can do.”
Ridder plans to do his part as he noticed a big difference from the collegiate game over his four-game stint.
“I would just say the windows,” Ridder said. “Obviously, the windows close. Then, you get into the red zone, and the windows get even smaller and close a lot faster.”
London and Pitts should be able to beat man coverage.
“You have to find different windows,” Ridder said. “You have to make things happen.”
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