Falcons’ Kyle Pitts working on his blocking, golf game

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees is glad that tight end Kyle Pitts is on his side.

“What is he?” Pees said. “Is he a wide receiver? Is he a tight end? The thing about it now, I noticed that he’s blocking pretty well. It’s a challenge (defending him). It’s a real challenge. It’s a pain.”

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The fourth player taken overall in the 2021 NFL draft, Pitts had a stellar rookie season and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He caught 68 of 110 targets (61.8%) for 1,026 yards and a touchdown.

With a year under his belt, Pitts is much improved. He dazzled in offseason workouts and throughout the team’s training camp and exhibition games. He flashed his big-play ability with a 52-yard catch against the Jets in the second exhibition game and then was yanked from the game.

“When you get a guy like that who can also run by a (defensive back),” Pees said. “There are some tight ends that – there’s a lot of them – (Travis) Kelce, a lot of guys in the league that are tough tight ends. ... (Tony) Gonzalez was one. But most of the time, you’re not worried about them running by a (cornerback). This guy can run by a corner, so it’s a real challenge.”

Pitts has been quick to click with quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“Just the reps,” Pitts said. “Just more reps in-game and in practice against different people. The relationship is growing.”

Pitts is the key chess piece in the Falcons’ offense. He’s likely to draw a crowd of defenders wherever he lines up. He doesn’t know if he’ll be used more outside of the formation or in the traditional tight-end spot.

“That’s a (question) for coach (Arthur) Smith,” Pitts said. “That’s up to him.”

Pitts believes the first-team offense performed well in the exhibition games.

“I do think that scoring is the definite No. 1 thing,” Pitts said. “Just taking each drive, trying to score. Convert on third down and keep the ball moving.”

Pitts wants to improve on his touchdown output, and he has other goals, too.

“I would say mentally I’ve grown,” Pitts said. “Before the ball has snapped. Still, I’m trying to get faster at it and seeing the ball, post-snap and pre-snap. Just trying to churn mentally first.”

From 2015-17, Mariota had an outstanding relationship with Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker, which included three Pro Bowl selections and a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2015 for Walker.

The chemistry that Mariota and Pitts developed over the offseason has its foundation in the Mariota-Walker connections when Smith was the Titans’ tight ends coach.

“It’s great, and I mean (Pitts) makes it easy,” Mariota said. “It’s fun throwing to a guy like that. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to give him the opportunity to go catch the ball. When you do that, and he can go out and make plays, he makes the entire offense look really good.”

They’ve also bonded on the golf course.

“Oh, it happens all the time, we play a bunch,” Mariota said. “We’ll make sure that happens so that I can get a little bit of bragging rights because he thinks he’s a little better than he is.”

Pitts is fine with working on his golf game and with the high expectations on the football field.

“I feel like the identity of our offense is still growing,” Pitts said. “We’re going to add another step to it. We just have to keep stacking weeks.”

Falcons tight ends coach Justin Peelle believes Pitts is prepared for the season.

“The second training camp has been awesome,” Peelle said. “He’s obviously a lot more comfortable. He’s even more comfortable in the offense.”

Pitts is fine with his role and how he’ll be deployed.

“He understands what coach Smith wants, Rags (offensive coordinator Dave Ragone) and myself, what we want,” Peelle said. “The expectation level. How you play. How you prepare. He’s done a really good job with that, and he’s improved in every aspect of his game. He still has room to improve with that as well.”

Pitts, who spoke to the Howard football team Aug. 25 before they played Alabama State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge at Center Parc Stadium, has been a joy for Peelle to work with.

“His attitude has been phenomenal,” Peelle said. “He comes out every day to work and tries to get better. It shows up on the field.”

Pitts is committed to becoming a well-rounded tight end. His improved blocking creates quandaries for defensive coordinators.

“You have to decide whether you want to play base and play with three linebackers in there or play with two linebackers and five (defensive backs),” Pees said. “What do you want to do? If you go small, and they happen to go big, they can run the ball on you and have some success. Then, if you go big, they spread the daggum guys out, and they throw the ball on you, so it’s hard on defenses.”

Pitts’ blocking has improved dramatically.

“In camp when we put the pads on, even though we’re not tackling, but you’re still going hard, especially up front,” Pees said. “You can notice a big difference in him out here against us. I just think he’s really improved in that area, which now makes it even harder on teams.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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