What the Falcons’ offense will look like without Julio Jones

Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (center) catches a pass while running a drill during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (center) catches a pass while running a drill during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

With the Julio Jones trade completed, the top goal for the Falcons is to get rookie tight end Kyle Pitts ready to play.

Pitts was the fourth pick in the 2021 draft, the highest selection in league history at the position, and could help pick up some of Jones’ production even from different position.

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“We did a lot of work on Kyle when we brought him in here,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We’re putting a lot on his plate and seeing where he’s at. We’re trying to bring him along the right way.”

The spotlight will be on the rookie during the team’s mandatory minicamp, which will be held Tuesday through Thursday in Flowery Branch.

“We’re really happy,” Smith said. “We’re trying to learn the scheme, so we hit the ground running when we’re actually practicing for real in late July.”

Pitts has helped himself by attending the rookie minicamp and the “voluntary” OTAs and will get more action at the minicamp.

“When you get taken that high, there’s a lot of expectations – but Kyle has to focus on the day-to-day, learning it and getting up to speed so that he’s ready to roll when the season starts,” Smith said. “We value that tight end position. There’s a lot of roles that those guys can play.”

The Falcons will be creative with designing plays for Pitts.

Also, Calvin Ridley will slide in the number one receiver slot. He had 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Russell Gage had 72 catches for 786 yards and four touchdowns.

Tajae Sharpe, who played with the Titans from 2016-19, had a career-high 41 catches in 2016. He played in just three games with the Vikings last season.

The Falcons drafted wide receiver Frank Darby in the sixth round (187th overall).

Other wide receivers on the roster include: Christian Blake, Antonio Nunn, Olamide Zaccheaus, Chris Rowland, Greg Dortch and Austin Trammell.

“We think we have a lot of guys that can play multiple roles for us and that’s what is going to be the fun part about when we get to camp and we’re actually practicing and getting ready for these (exhibition) season games,” Smith said.

Jones and the Titans will face the Falcons in the first exhibition game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 13 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Pitts and the rest of the tight ends will all play roles in the revamped offense without Jones. With the Titans last season, Smith had four tight ends play at least 200 snaps.

“I don’t want to discredit anybody that can play multiple roles for us,” Smith said. “Talking about that spot, Hayden (Hurst) – he can play multiple roles for us – Lee Smith, he’ll have multiple roles, (fullback) Keith Smith, so those guys, when you get into those base personnel groups, they can do a lot of different jobs for us.”

In addition to getting Pitts ready to go, the Falcons are teaching everything in the offensive playbook from formations to pass protections.

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“A lot of that stuff plays out,” Smith said. “You just want to go into camp when you’re not hearing things for the first time. Obviously, you’re going to work your fundamentals and your technique, and you want guys to stop thinking when they break the huddle – offense, defense or special teams – the memorization part is over.”

The Falcons must also improve the play along of the offensive line. There is an opening at center after Alex Mack was not re-signed. Matt Hennessy is off to a good start and center Drew Dalman was selected in the fourth round (114th overall) out of Stanford.

“Matt has done a good job,” Smith said. “That’s an important role for us in particular, that center spot. There’s good competition there. As we get into camp, we have a couple of guys we feel that can pull the ball well, but Matt, that’s a big role and those are big shoes to fill.”

Hennessy was selected in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Temple.

“Alex Mack was a heck of a player here and has had a great career in the NFL,” Smith said. “Everything we’ve asked Matt to do so far, he’s done and done well.”

The rookie class will also get a taste of what camp will be like during the minicamp.

“It’s been a really good rookie class,” Smith said. “It’s a mature rookie class. Some of the stuff you have to deal with in certain years, we haven’t had to – knock on wood – so far.”

In addition to Pitts, Darby and Dalman, the Falcons will try to get second-round pick Riche Grant (safety) and third-round pick Jalen Mayfield (left guard) ready for early NFL action.

“We’re trying to build this and everybody around the league is doing different things, but we’re trying to be creative in what makes sense for the Atlanta Falcons,” Smith said. “This rookie class has done a good job so far doing everything that we’ve asked them to do. They’re engaged and they’re trying to improve every day.”

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