Cover 9@9: Kyle Pitts credits Stephon Gilmore with welcoming him to the NFL

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

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Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts talks about the mental aspect of football

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

1. The no-spin zone: With players off, it’s football camp season.

Falcons cornerback Casey Hayward’s foundation held the Power 15 Showcase on Saturday at Lakewood Stadium for some of the top defensive backs from across the state.

Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts and cornerback A.J. Terrell were on hand to help with the camp along with Green Bay’s Preston Smith (Stephenson High), Indianapolis’ Kenny Moore (Lowndes) and Tennessee’s Bud Dupree (Wilkinson County).

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During the afternoon break, they held a panel discussion with the campers, and each player discussed their toughest moments in the NFL.

“I’m going to have to go with (Panthers cornerback) Stephon Gilmore,” said Pitts, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season. “That was the most savvy, slowest, fast man that I ever went against. He was slow, but mentally he beat me the whole game.”

Gilmore was activated Oct. 30 before facing the Falcons. It was the first game that Calvin Ridley did not play as he left the Falcons to deal with his mental health.

Pitts was the Falcons’ top target and was held to two catches for 13 yards by Gilmore in the 19-13 loss Oct. 31.

“That was the first time, I was like, you don’t have to run a 4.3 (40-yard dash) to lock somebody up,” Pitts said. “There are people that are older than you who are mentally faster. He got me good. Then after that, he went crazy the rest of the year. Yeah, that was my wake-up call.”

Hayward could relate.

“Mine was Demaryius Thomas, rest his soul,” Hayward said. “I think it was my fourth year, and I had to follow him. He just gave me the business the whole game. From the first quarter to the fourth quarter. By the second quarter, I was like, ‘I hope the game hurries up and ends.’ Oh my God, he gave me the business the whole game.”

Thomas, a former Georgia Tech standout who died in December, caught eight of 11 targets for 168 yards in Denver’s 29-10 win over the Packers on Nov. 1, 2015.

“Peyton Manning threw it at me every time he was out there,” Hayward said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man’ … it was sad. I didn’t even want to watch the film. He gave it to me.”

Terrell, who recently was ranked as the 16th-best player under 25 in the league by, hasn’t had that special moment yet.

“I (haven’t) had a long day yet,” Terrell said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t come. Playing corner, (stuff) happens and you just (must) bounce back. We’ve got short-term memory. Hopefully, they don’t come, but I’ll just block it out of memory.”

Moore, who played at Valdosta State and is set to enter his sixth season with the Colts, had rough outings against Tyreek Hill and Hunter Renfrow.

“Covering (Hill) from the outside, a receiver only has a couple of routes from the outside,” Moore said. “But when he moves inside, you’ve got to go inside; he’s got a lot more room to work with. Speed kills, too. We all know. There are a lot of fast guys in the league, don’t get me wrong, but I think his gears are different.

“It’s not human, you know what I mean. You just have to run with him or try to at least get the tempo of his speed.”

Dupree, who was a first-round pick (22nd overall) by the Steelers in 2015 and has 42.5 career sacks, was frustrated by trying to sack Tom Brady.

Smith, who was a second-round pick (38th) by Washington in 2015, used to face left tackle Trent Williams in practice, and now he gets to practice against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

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Falcons' Casey Hayward, A.J. Terrell and Kyle Pitts speak at football camp.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

2. Terrell on confidence: Terrell told the campers his secret on making it to the NFL.

“Confidence plays a big role in sports,” Terrell said. “It’s a big piece that you need in life in general, just having confidence. Going up there with the right mindset knowing that you can’t be (messed) with, basically. Just coming in there and you just have to know that I’m better than this person. You just have to believe in yourself and just apply it when you play.”

Some of the state’s top recruits, including Westlake cornerback Avieon Terrell (his younger brother), were in the group of about 40 players.

“Don’t make the person that you’re going against bigger than what they are,” Terrell said. “Despite whoever is telling you that this guy is five-star, this guy is this, this guy is that. You are you. Go out there and ball and be yourself. Just believe in yourself and have confidence.”

3. Smith on passion: Smith noted that the players will need a passion for the game to be successful.

“Once you start playing sports, we are all doing it for our friends, family,” Smith said. “Dad and Mom got you into this sport. But for you to go far, to really get something out of it, you (must) really love what you’re doing. You (must) really take time out, when no one else is watching, to really perfect your craft. That passion aspect will get you farther than what you expect.”

4. Pitts on mental aspects: Pitts believes that mental preparation is key.

“Really the game is 90% mental,” Pitts said. “You’ve got young guys like (A.J. Terrell) who can run 4.3 on the field laterally, and then you’ve got people like Gilmore, who is 31 and running the same speed, but he’s smart. It’s really about the mental side. Knowing what your opponent is doing. If you know the tendencies of a receiver and what his weaknesses are, you can attack. I would say the mental side is the most important part of the game.”

5. Mental health: More players around the league are paying attention to their mental health and well-being.

Smith said he likes to play golf and encouraged the youth to find something outside of football to “relax your mind.”

Terrell said he does yoga.

“I’ve been trying to swim,” Terrell said. “I’m still learning how to swim. Can’t swim for real. I have to get right. I’m tapping into that. Your life is on the line every day. I’m doing that, and I’ve been doing yoga.”

Hayward uses yoga, Pilates and bowling to relax.

“I don’t play video games,” Hayward said.

6. Life after football: Hayward noted that in the middle of their NFL careers, most players start preparing for life after football.

He has some real estate and owns a few Starbucks stores and storage units.

“I know this football thing is not long term,” Hayward said. “It’s not forever. So, I want to have (funds) coming in when I’m finished playing.”

Hayward, who earned a degree in sociology from Vanderbilt, stressed picking a school based on education.

“That’s why you go to the schools that you pick,” Hayward said. “Education before anything. I went to a good school that is going to help me lock in on different things outside of football.”

Dupree also is an investor in real estate.

“I consider myself an entrepreneur, so there is no handbook,” Dupree said. “It’s all trial and error. Being able to take chances and have a great team around you, make great game plans not only on the field but in life as well.”

He became interested in real estate early in his career.

“I’m excited about the business ventures that I’ve got going on right now,” Dupree said. “Buying up some acres. I have a record label. ... It’s fun in the entrepreneurial world to see money coming in. There’s also a risk, too. You (must) make sure that you’re also ready to take a loss in certain situations and that you know how to bounce back.”

7. A.J. Terrell on his brother: The younger Terrell made the AJC’s Class 6A All-State team and is committed to Clemson.

“Being the older brother, of course, he always abides and just listens,” A.J. Terrell said. “He’s kept his head down and just worked. It’s just my job to keep him on the right track and just hold myself accountable so that he can follow right after me.”

8. Falcons open practices: The Falcons will open 13 training-camp practices to the public. Twelve of the practices will be at team headquarters in Flowery Branch, which will include two joint sessions with the Jaguars, and one will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

A limited number of free tickets for each of the 12 open practices at Flowery Branch are available at the following link: This will include the practices with the Jaguars on Aug. 24-25. The Falcons are also scheduled to have two open practices Aug. 19-20 with the Jets.

The open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be Aug. 15. More information on the session will be available in July.

Here are the open practice dates:

Friday, July 29, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Saturday, July 30, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Monday, Aug. 1, Flowery Branch, 10 a.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 2, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 3, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Friday, Aug. 5, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Saturday, Aug. 6, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Monday, Aug. 8, Flowery Branch, 10 a.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 9, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 10, Flowery Branch, 9:30 a.m.

Monday, Aug. 15, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 24, Flowery Branch, joint practices with Jacksonville, 1 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 25, Flowery Branch, joint practices with Jacksonville, 1 p.m.

9. Falcons’ depth chart: Here’s our working unofficial offseason depth chart:


WR – Bryan Edwards, Cordarrelle Patterson, Frank Darby, Cameron Batson, KhaDarel Hodge, Stanley Berryhill

TE – Kyle Pitts, Brayden Lenius, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Rick Leonard, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson

LG – Jalen Mayfield, Elijah Wilkinson, Colby Gossett, Justin Shaffer

C – Drew Dalman or Matt Hennessy, Jonotthan Harrison

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil

RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi

TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, John Raine, John FitzPatrick

WR – Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Geronimo Allison, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt, Tyshaun James

RB – Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, Tyler Allgeier

FB – Keith Smith

QB – Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, Feleipe Franks


DE – Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, Jalen Dalton

NT – Vincent Taylor, Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham, Timothy Horne

DE – Nick Thurman, Bryce Rodgers, Derrick Tangelo

OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Brailford, Arnold Ebiketie

ILB – Deion Jones, Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen

ILB – Rashaan Evans, Dorian Etheridge, Nick Kwiatkoski, Nathan Landman

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Quinton Bell, Rashad Smith, DeAngelo Malone, Kuony Deng

LCB – A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts

FS (Left) – Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Brad Hawkins

SS (Right) – Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Tre Webb, Dean Marlowe

RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Dee Alford, Matt Hankins


K – Younghoe Koo

P – Dom Maggio, Seth Vernon

LS – Liam McCullough

H – Dom Maggio

PR – Avery Williams

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, Cameron Batson

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