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Bair Mail: On Jessie Bates III, Jeff Okudah and Falcons secondary, Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson

Your questions get answers on the eve of Falcons mandatory minicamp

Falcons mandatory minicamp formally starts on Tuesday, so I thought we'd clear the decks of good mailbag questions before we get an important access point and a whole new set of insights watching this team work during the final act of the offseason program.

So we did exactly that on Monday, answering questions about some big names on the roster. That includes Jessie Bates and Kyle Pitts, Jeff Okudah and Cordarrelle Patterson.


Before we get to all that, I'd like to shout out some members of our digital team. We just wrapped creative days, where most every player goes through a car wash of photo shoots and video captures for everything you see on the halo board at Mercedes Benz-Stadium, in addition to much of what you'll see on our channels.

There are too many people involved with this enterprise to name everyone, but I'd at least like to mention our video team: Austin Hittel, Jenny Ross, Mark Whittingham, Sam Larsen, Zach Markon, Taylor Vismor and Dimitris Griffin. And our team photographers Shanna Lockwood, Brandon Magnus and Jay Bendlin. It's a massive undertaking and these folks shepherd a huge creative team through the whole process. And, if you ever come away from the Falcons YouTube channel or our photo galleries feeling wowed by what you saw, the names above are the reasons why. Bravo to everyone mentioned and many more that aren't.

With all that said, let's get to your pre-minicamp questions:


Victor Cenales from Pooler, Ga.

I'd like to say thanks for all of your great input , about the Falcons you haven't let us down yet, but I am excited about the Jeffrey Okudah trade, and being able to pick up jessie Bates via free agency along with my favorite cornerback in college football, Phillips , Do you think that is the making of a no fly zone situation for our defense?

Bair: I don't think we should start handing out nicknames before they actually play together, but I'm super comfortable saying the secondary has been upgraded significantly and could well be a team strength.

Jessie Bates is the real deal. You can see that in his Bengals game tape. He's the type who can make others better, an asset that can help playing deep, communicating well with the front and even getting involved in the box. He's a major reason why there's so much optimism surrounding the defensive backfield, providing upgrades in several areas of defensive play.

Jeff Okudah is a guy who fans should get excited about. He has looked really good in OTAs available to the press. He's an elite athlete. That much is clear. And he can cover. His spring battles with Drake London have been fun to watch, and we should see more of those bouts during minicamp.

If he finds top form, Okudah and A.J. Terrell would form one of the NFC's best cornerback tandems. He has to stay healthy, obviously, and build off of a solid 2022 campaign in Detroit.

Those are all pluses, but there are some question marks in the back. Can Richie Grant continue to ascend? Who's going to take command in the slot? Mike Hughes is the favorite, but don't sleep on Dee Alford and rookie Clark Phillips III in that position battle.

Michael Curtin from New York

Do you think we could see key players such as Kyle Pitts be ready come week 1?

Bair: Arthur Smith has said a few times that he's confident that Kyle Pitts will be ready to go for Week 1, which is the only thing that matters for a player like that. While everyone needs practice, the Falcons need Pitts healthy.

He'll be a huge part of the offense this season, with Desmond Ridder better equipped to get him the ball working down the field. Pitts will play everywhere, but I'd bet he spends tons of time at receiver. That's possible with Jonnu Smith around as a quality in-line tight end. I would expect his stats to head toward his rookie levels if he comes out of rehab with solid burst and explosiveness. That seems like a great bet at this point.

Pitts will add a unique element Ridder certainly missed during his four starts, though the pair need to start building chemistry and timing at some point during the summer.

In terms of the other injured players, Ta'Quon Graham as returned to practice already. I'd bet Caleb Huntley is still a ways away after tearing his Achilles' tendon, but there's nothing certain on that.

Mark Strause from Heigns, Penn.

Since the loss of Avery Williams at the returner position do you see Cordarrelle Patterson maybe taking a full time return position since his running back reps will be less this year due to Allgeier and Robinson. Your thoughts on this or is there someone else that "us" the fans are maybe not seeing that could take over this position!! thanks!!

Bair: The Avery Williams loss was a big one. He's one of the NFL's best return men and a quality change of pace option out of the backfield or in the pattern. The Falcons will have to operate well on special teams without him, but I wouldn't expect Cordarrelle Patterson to assume all of his return responsibilities. While ranks high among the best kickoff returners of all time. He generally doesn’t return punts, though, and the Falcons have some other options there.

Arthur Smith mentioned Mike Hughes, Dee Alford and Penny Hart as options to return punts. Bijan Robinson has been seen taking reps there, too, but I would guess the previous three have greater odds of becoming the regular punt returner.

And, since Steven Levette's question was about a possible role change for CP, we can answer that now since we're talking about him. Smith isn't giving away state secrets, but I would anticipate Patterson's role will be closer to 2021 than 2022, when he was mostly a straight up running back. I would think he'll move around a bit more with Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson in the backfield and less depth at the receiver spot.

He can play anywhere, which is an asset in the positionless football the Falcons will implement. I would caution against those thinking CP won't have a significant impact in 2023. He has a nose for the end zone and is a big dude who runs really hard. And he has played receiver most of his life, so he'll be an asset in the pattern as well.

Call for questions

We'll do another one of these at the end of the week, so submit your questions right here for inclusion in Friday's Bair Mail.

Take a look at the 2023 Atlanta Falcons in action during offseason practice, presented by MegaFit Meals.

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