Kyle Pitts feels ‘pretty close’ to 100% as Falcons training camp begins

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Arthur Smith was a few minutes late to his morning press conference ahead of training camp Wednesday.

He had gotten a little “amped up” in the team’s meeting just before, Smith said. To be fair, most teams are enthusiastic at this point, with a clean slate heading into the 2023 season.

“I know everybody’s optimistic this time of year,” Smith said. “But this is what we do. You’re back at it, you’re back to football, and you just don’t want to forget certain things, you don’t want to take it for granted. Because you’ve got a lot of new faces. Here’s how we operate. Here’s things we want to emphasize early on as we get to this ramp-up, and you want to make sure everybody’s on the same page. You try not to pontificate too much, but you don’t sleep a lot just out of excitement.”

Aside from Smith, one person who has ample reason for enthusiasm is tight end Kyle Pitts – a torn MCL limited Pitts to 10 games last season, but Pitts participated in practice Wednesday and had been eagerly awaiting the chance to get back out there with teammates.

Being a behind-the-scenes guy as he rehabbed this offseason, it turns out, doesn’t have the same thrill.

“Being on the inside on OTAs and watching, I was just like, it’ll just make you grind a little harder because you want to get back out there,” Pitts said after Wednesday’s practice. “... I feel pretty good. It was fun being back out here with the guys; the fellowship is always good being out here having fun playing ball.”

Pitts was sporting a knee brace on his right knee, but participated in passing drills, catching passes and running. When asked how close he is to feeling 100% healthy, Pitts said: “I’m pretty close.”

Pitts tore his MCL on Nov. 20 in the Falcons’ 27-24 win versus the Bears and initially didn’t think it was serious. Unfortunately, the MRI told a different story, and the injury required surgery. It marked his first major injury, but he quickly switched his focus to his recovery.

“It was just like, ‘Damn,’” Pitts said. “And then you get over it and get the surgery done, and then it’s time to get back to work and get strong so I can get back to who I was. … It was definitely hard, but it was just time for me to get stronger and be ready for the season.”

Since his injury, Pitts has prioritized working out and preventative maintenance, trying to get his knee as strong as he can, back to how he felt before.

Having a healthy Pitts would give the Falcons a boost in 2023, per Desmond Ridder, now designated as the starting quarterback from the get-go.

“Just having another big body out there, running across the middle of the field,” Ridder said of the 6-foot-6 Pitts. “Sometimes, no matter whether you’re a short quarterback or tall quarterback, it’s hard to see some of those smaller guys running across the middle of the field, so when you’ve got a big body like Kyle, a big body like (tight ends) John FitzPatrick, Jonnu Smith, makes it a lot easier just to see the field.”

Ridder has been impressed with Pitts’ work ethic to become healthy.

“He’s been in here working ever since last season. He took his injury; he’s done nothing but try to get back out there with us,” Ridder said. “Every single day, that’s his goal, or was his goal, to be back out there with his guys. That’s all of us is we want to be back out there, we want to be playing. We don’t want to spend any time on the sidelines if we don’t have to. And he’s done a great job of that.”

As far as Pitts’ limitations in practice these days, Pitts deferred to Arthur Smith. For now, it does sound like Pitts is still ramping up his activity, and by his own admission he’s not quite full-tilt yet.

Here’s what Smith had to say, regarding any limitations for Pitts: “You’re not going to ask him to do 100 plays a day, but with a lot of our guys, these ramp-up periods, you’re only out there for 90 minutes. And there’s only so many reps. We’ll do a little more individual, we’ll obviously have some 7-on-7 and team, and we’ll just kind of build off that every day. And there will be guys, whether they’re coming off injury, or we’ve got to assess that, but it’s hard for me to say, hey look, we’re not playing a game tomorrow, so, but the fact that he’s out there practicing, taking some reps, we’ll be smart, but that’s a very encouraging sign.”

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