Falcons’ village helping to raise a tight end in Kyle Pitts

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Falcons top-draft pick Kyle Pitts discusses the learning aspect of training camp as he prepares for Friday's exhibition opener against the Titans.

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons, who are set to open the exhibition season Friday night, have taken the village approach to helping prized-rookie tight end Kyle Pitts get ready to play in the NFL.

Pitts, the 6-foot-6 and 245-pound tight end, was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft. With the trade of dynamic wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons are grooming Pitts to a weapon in the offense.

The Falcons, from coach Arthur Smith to tight end coach Justin Peelle to all of the position players and quarterback Matt Ryan, have helped the rookie get adjusted to the NFL.

“I can’t say there has been one specific person because there has been a bunch of people that I kind of go to for tips and details,” Pitts said. “Hayden (Hurst), Lee (Smith), Calvin (Ridley), (Russell Gage), all of those guys have different type of flavors in their games. Just to be able to learn and put all of that into one. That will help me be the best player.”

Pitts, who figures to be a matchup nightmare for defenses, is soaking up all of the information.

“We’re all selfless, and it starts with Lee, the oldest guy in the (meeting) room,” Pitts said. “He’s someone who’s like a mentor, another coach that’s in the room.”

The Falcons acquired Lee Smith in a trade with Buffalo for a seventh-round draft pick in 2022. Smith, 33, played at Tennessee and Marshall. He was drafted in the fifth round (159th overall) by New England in 2011.

Smith, 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, is a blocking tight end who has played with Buffalo (2011-14, 2019-20) and with Oakland (2015-18).

“He sets the standard,” Pitts said. “He and Hayden are the older guys in the room. They make sure that younger guys, all of us, are paying attention and playing fast on the field. They do little things to help us win.”

Pitts was the highest drafted tight end ever, topping Denver’s selection of Riley Odom with the fifth overall pick in 1972.

The expectations for Pitts are high, starting with owner Arthur Blank. But Pitts tries not to worry about how he will play.

“Just push it off to the side,” Pitts said. “That day was that day. I’m blessed to have it and have those accolades. Those days are over. Now, I’m here trying to make myself the best I can be every day.”

Pitts has been making spectacular plays at practice, but his teammates have not come up with a nickname for him yet. They used to call Jones “Cheat Code” because he made things easier for the offense.

Pitts, much like Arthur Smith, appears be a no-frills kind of guy. So, there probably won’t be a forthcoming nickname.

Pitts is just trying to blend in, but at 6-6 and with the lofty expectations, that’s hard to do.

“Training camp has been going very well,” Pitts said. “I’ve just learned that you have to compete every day. I wouldn’t say compete every day, but just learning a new way how to win every day. You’re competing with the best, so you have to put your best foot forward.”

Pitts said his NFL moment -- so far – came back in OTAs.

“When the defensive lineman were running as fast as some the linebackers, that was kind of my welcome to the NFL,” Pitts said. “Just seeing how everybody was fast and can run to the ball.”

Pitts is ready for his Atlanta debut, if the Falcons elect to play him against the Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Just coming out and playing fast, executing my assignments and doing what I can do to help the team,” Pitts said.

Smith was a former tight ends coach and has been closely monitoring Pitts’ development.

“He’s coming along,” Smith said. “He’s right where he needs to be, that’s the best way to answer it.”

The head coach went on to discuss the entire class, although the rest of the world wants to know about Pitts.

“He’s get attention because he so damn tall,” Smith quipped. “It’s not just Kyle, it’s the entire rookie class. I’m very pleased with how the whole class is doing. Make that judgment at the end of the season.”

Sorry, the fans (and certainly his fantasy owners) will need daily and weekly updates.

The Falcons have put a lot on Pitts’ plate, while trying to get him ready for the season. He’s aligned in several spots, has run all of the routes and has been used as a decoy.

“Just mentally, having to lock in when the day is over,” Pitts said. “Go home and spend time in my playbook to make sure that I know my assignment.”

Pitts likely won’t get caught up in the hype.

“My expectations is just to come out and be the best player that I can be every day,” Pitts said. “I don’t listen to the outside noise or let anything get to me. That’s just something that I kind of block out and hone in on myself.”

Smith likes Pitts’ approach.

“You have to give him credit,” Smith said. “Give his parents credit. When we did all of the work pre-draft on Kyle, he’s certainly more mature than I was at 21. He doesn’t turn 21 until we get to London.

“Go figure. I certainly could not have had these expectations, this much responsibility at that age. I was running around Chapel Hill. ... You have to give him credit, he’s a mature kid. He’s not a kid. He’s a man. I’m sorry.”

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Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley talks about his impression of first-round pick Kyle Pitts after training with him this summer.

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