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Falcons Coach Reveals 'Challenge' of Covering Star Kyle Pitts

On the heels of a historic rookie season, Pitts has shined in training camp.

Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts is quickly emerging as a star. Arriving with enormous expectations as a top-5 pick, Pitts trailed only Mike Ditka in receiving yards among rookie tight ends in league history and was one of only six rookies to make last year's Pro Bowl.

Pitts entered the season being unable to legally drink and closed it as Atlanta's leader in targets (110), receptions (68) and yards (1,026). Perhaps most impressive about the 21-year-old's rookie season is that he did so without much help around him.

Now leading an offense with first-round pick Drake London and trade acquisition Bryan Edwards as the starting receivers, Pitts is poised to build on his historic rookie campaign and is off to a strong start in training camp.

The man tasked with slowing him down on the practice field is Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who outlined what makes Pitts such a difficult player to cover and where he's seen the 21-year-old grow the most.

"Ugh," Pees said with a cringe and distraught head shake. "What is he? Is he a wide receiver, is he a tight end? The thing about him is now is, he's blocking pretty well. It used to be, 'hey, he's just a wide receiver, he may be in the tight end position, but he's just a wide receiver.' But he's actually blocking pretty well. So, it's a real challenge. It's a pain."

Though he's just entering his second season, Pitts is already widely viewed as one of the top tight ends in the league. When discussing how special Pitts is, Pees referred to two of the game's all-time great tight ends to make his point.

"When you get a guy like (Pitts), who also can run by a DB," Pees began. "There's some tight ends, there's a lot of them, (Travis) Kelce, a lot of guys in the league that are tough matchup tight ends, (Tony) Gonzalez was one. Most of the time, you're not worried about them running by a corner. This guy can run by a corner, so that's a real challenge."

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This isn't the first time Pitts has been mentioned in the same conversation as Tony Gonzalez. Earlier this offseason, Falcons great Roddy White said that Pitts has "everything (Gonzalez) has and more."

While Pitts had an unbelievable rookie season, he still has strides to take to join the game's elite tight ends. Many will point to the touchdown category, while Pitts believes it's the mental aspect. Pees, however, speaking from a schematic standpoint, believes Pitts' improvement as a blocker has game-changing potential.

"You have to decide whether you want to play base and play with three linebackers in there or two linebackers and five DBs," Pees declared. "What do you want to do? If you go small, and they have to go big, they can run the ball on you and have success. If you go big, they spread the guys out and throw the ball on you. It really is hard on defenses."

Pitts played in-line a considerable amount a season ago, but he didn't necessarily worry defenses, as Pees mentioned he was largely viewed as a receiver. With training camp marking the first time the team has worn pads since the 2021 season, Atlanta didn't quite know if Pitts would take a jump as a blocker, but according to Pees, it became obvious in a hurry that he did.

"In camp, when we put the pads on (is when he stood out)," said Pees. "You're not tackling, but you're still going hard, especially up front. You can notice a big difference in him. I just think he's really improved in that area, which now makes it even harder on teams."

Considering the 6-6, 245-pound Pitts was already one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the league, adding another element to his game is a scary sight for defenses.

With another season of high-level production, Pitts can firmly assert himself as one of the elite offensive weapons in the game, alongside the likes of Kelce. Until then, Pitts will continue to work towards rounding out his skill set, making Pees' life all the more challenging along the way.