Falcons’ Kyle Pitts feels prepared for his NFL debut Sunday

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts played only two snaps in the exhibition season and can’t wait for the regular-season opener on Sunday.

The Falcons, trying to rebound from a 4-12 season, will host the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I’ll be very excited,” Pitts said. “I’ve been waiting my whole life. I’ve been wanting to play in the NFL my whole life.”

Despite the light exhibition workload, Pitts, who was selected No 4 overall in the draft, believes coach Arthur Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have him prepared.

“I think during the week our preparation will help me prepare as well,” Pitts said. “Our practices (are) pretty hard, so I’ll be ready.”

Ryan, who’s set to enter his 14th season in the league, has helped Pitts just like he did the departed Julio Jones back in 2011 as he prepared for his rookie season.

“Definitely, he’s a guy who is helping me,” Pitts said. “He pulls me aside and tells me small things that kind of help me in my game on and off the field. He’s a good mentor.”

Ryan contended that Pitts has been a good student and willing listener.

“He’s done a good job,” Ryan said. “I think he’s in a good spot coming into game 1.”

Ryan doesn’t believe the lack of exhibition-game action will stunt Pitts’ growth.

“I thought training camp was really good for him,” Ryan said. “From understanding the offense from where he was at the beginning until now, he’s come a long way.”

Ryan also started as a rookie back in 2008 and met some lofty expectations after being drafted third overall.

“I know all of those rookies, it’s new, it’s exciting and you’re nervous,” Ryan said. “It’s all of those things. My point to him is that it doesn’t change in year 14. This first one is always exciting. Let’s make sure we have a good week of practice, enjoy the moment and I think he’ll be just fine.”

Pitts admitted that he’d be nervous and then backtracked to say that he’ll be eager.

“I’m just eager to play at this next level and test my abilities against others,” Pitts said. “I’m most eager about the competition, going against different people that I have seen. Different techniques and different defenses.”

Smith was the tight ends coach in Tennessee before being named the offensive coordinator.

“Kyle will play multiple roles for us,” Smith said.

The coach knows that all eyes will be on his rookie tight end.

“We’ve got to win this football game,” Smith said. “He should be a part of it. He could do a nice job or they could take him away. We have to find a way to win this game and it’s not just about padding stats.”

No one mentioned stats, but Smith addressed it anyway.

“So, we look like hey we got our butt kicked, but look at our stats,” Smith said. “Look at are stat graphic. We’ve got to win.”

Smith wants to wait until the end of the year to evaluate Pitts. That will not be the case. Pitts be heavily scrutinized as the tight end taken highest in the draft since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

“Ultimately, at the end of the season, we’ll see where he’s at,” Smith said. “What kind of impact did he have helping us win. If he has 70 catches and we lose a bunch of games in blowouts, who cares. It’s like being a high-volume scorer on bad basketball team.”

Traditionally, rookie tight ends have struggled to make an impact in the NFL.

“Again, I’ll reserve judgement until the end of this year,” Smith said. “Hopefully, Kyle has a long year. We need to bring him along the right way as a rookie.”

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni is acutely aware of Pitts. The Eagles had the 10th overall pick in the draft and studied Pitts’ work in case he slipped.

“The one thing we do know is that he’s a heck of a football player,” Sirianni said. “We did our homework on him ... we’ve probably got more information than anybody because his offensive coordinator (Brian Johnson) is our quarterback coach here. We know that he presents issues regardless of what he showed in the (exhibition) season.”

The Eagles noted the type of defensive backs that Pitts was beating on his SEC film.

“I’m excited to watch this guy’s career,” Sirianni said. “He’s an exciting player. We have our hands full.”

Pitts doesn’t worry about the high expectations that go along with his lofty draft status.

“Just go out and take every play by just playing and don’t over-think anything,” Pitts said.


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