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Why Falcons Have 'Faith & Trust' in MyCole Pruitt to Replace Kyle Pitts

With Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts out for an extended period of time due to a torn MCL, the Atlanta Falcons will need the rest of their tight ends room to step up - and MyCole Pruitt appears to be first up in line.

The Atlanta Falcons will be without star tight end Kyle Pitts for at least the next four week, as the 22-year-old was placed on injured reserve with a torn MCL.

Pitts, the highest-drafted tight end in league history, led Atlanta in receptions and yards a season ago and ranks second and third on the team this year, respectively.

Beyond the numbers, the 2021 Pro Bowler is an integral part of coach Arthur Smith's offense, as he demands additional attention from defenses and has taken significant strides as a blocker.

With Pitts now out of the fold for the foreseeable future, the Falcons will have to look elsewhere for contributions at tight end. After the former Florida Gator went down, eighth-year pro MyCole Pruitt took over, playing a season-high 31 snaps and impressing Smith in the process.

"MyCole Pruitt stepped up big time," Smith said. "There's some little things and nuance in the game plan that he did that nobody will ever know."

Pruitt, 30, has played in 86 career games with 28 starts. He's caught 50 of his 67 career targets, accumulating 519 yards and eight touchdowns. This year, the former Southern Illinois Saluki has seen action in seven games, making one start and catching four passes for 31 yards and a score.

Part of the allure behind Pruitt is his extensive history with Smith, dating back to 2018 with the Tennessee Titans. For two years, Smith was the offensive coordinator while Pruitt made 31 appearances and 11 starts, grabbing 15 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

The familiarity behind Pruitt and Smith is a key reason as to why the former is in Atlanta. However, the Falcons' second-year coach has been impressed with some of the gains Pruitt's made relative to the scheme ... while providing an in-depth report on what's to come.

"He was a very productive player coming out of college," Smith began. "He's a very powerful guy. Even as a veteran, some of the schemes we ask, he's improved a lot. He's a heavy-handed player. He's got great feel for space, he's a natural athlete, played multiple sports in high school, smart player too. You can see when guys try to tackle him, the way he finishes. Heavy-handed, smart player."

While still in his first year with the Falcons, Pruitt's transition has been made significantly easier not only by having Smith but also quarterback Marcus Mariota, who threw him passes for a year and a half in Tennessee.

Now back together again, Mariota's excited for the opportunity coming Pruitt's way, in part because he's made his mark in the NFL by doing work outside the spotlight.

"He doesn't get a lot of credit, and he deserves a whole lot," Mariota said. "Not only does he block at the point of attack and do a lot of different things for us ... Unfortunately, with Kyle going down, he had to step into a bigger role and had a huge play for us on one of those keepers.

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"It's kind of fun for me - I've known MyCole since we were in Tennessee together, and I have complete faith and trust in him. He's done a lot of the dirty jobs and it's cool to see him have success today."

Pruitt saw a lion's share of the work after Pitts departed, but Smith wanted to make it clear that the Falcons have more options. There's Parker Hesse, a block-first option who's seen plenty of action this year, Feleipe Franks, a quarterback-turned-tight end who's missed the last two games with a calf injury, and veteran Anthony Firkser, who played alongside Pruitt in Tennessee but has inactive of late.

"We'll try to find more roles for (Pruitt)," Smith said. "And same for Parker Hesse; he's done a lot of the dirty work. We've got other guys. Hopefully we get Feleipe back, and then Firkser, so we'll see."

Regardless, Smith keeps his tight ends on the field at a high clip. Pruitt was the primary beneficiary snaps-wise after Pitts left, and he evidently left a positive impression on both his coach and quarterback.

While he's been far from a featured part of the offense thus far, chemistry and schematic understand shouldn't be anywhere near the top of concerns surrounding Pruitt's ascension to a potential starting role.

Ultimately, the Falcons don't need Pruitt to be Pitts - they need him to be himself; a heavy-handed, smart, athletic and powerful player who's willing to do the dirty work and more than capable of delivering hits after the catch.

Albeit certainly not under the circumstances he would've hoped for, Pruitt's in line for another big opportunity - and Smith and Mariota are filled with confidence that he's up for the task.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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