We've got one more week of OTAs, followed by a mandatory minicamp. Then it'll get real quiet around the NFL landscape, with players and coaches headed for white-sand beaches during a time where they can truly get away from it all.
We are in the midst of a sneak preview of this new-look Falcons roster, especially with new players all over the depth chart.
- Arthur Smith explains why Falcons are stockpiling receivers
- 'You see a different player and mindset': Arthur Smith talks Kyle Pitts expectations
- 'They make you look good': Marcus Mariota on big-bodied receivers in Atlanta
- Finding the Falcons rookie class: Drake London, Arnold Ebiketie, Troy Andersen; Desmond Ridder
Watching this rookie class has been intriguing. It has also been fun detailing how returners can take that leap in production.
Kyle Pitts has potential to do exactly that, which is how we'll lead off this Monday mailbag:
Mason Carson from the Battery (ATL)
I heard Arthur Smith say he thinks Kyle Pitts will be even better in his second season. That's really saying something, considering how good he was as a rookie. What's a realistic expectation of how productive he can be in 2022? And, do you think Drake London's presence can help Kyle?
Bair: Arthur Smith said last season that Pitts was "just scratching the surface," after he recorded the second-best season by a rookie tight end in NFL history. The Falcons head coach isn’t wrong. He could well be someone Travis Kelce-like, who often leads his team in receiving, with totals closer to 1,500 yards than a thousand. That's an ideal scenario for the Falcons at their No. 4 overall pick. Pitts has proven a hard worker and productive talent who grew tremendously during his rookie year. He'll certainly be better in his sophomore season. Can he be steady? Can he be clutch? The Falcons will need him to be if they are to outperform expectations in 2022.
I do think that having Drake London in the pattern will help. There were times last season, when Russell Gage was returning from injury, where it was often Pitts, Patterson or punt. London is a threat who must be respected, even as he learns the NFL game. There's more depth in receiver corps this year, meaning teams can't just try to scheme Pitts out of the play.
Nathan Pruitt from Gainesville, Ga.
Hey Scott, with OTA's in full swing and training camp not far away, what changes have you seen or do you expect from the way Coach Smith runs training camp and pre-season going into his second year as head coach? And what's the early impressions from Mariota? I think he is going to surprise a lot of people if he stays healthy!
Bair: Both good questions, Nathan. If you don't mind, I'm going to answer them in reverse order.
Early impressions of Marcus Mariota have been solid. I've only seen him work in a few OTAs, but he throws a good ball. It may not always have a perfect spiral, but he can put it on the money and catch receivers in stride. His deep ball looks pretty good as well. He's running the first unit, whatever that's worth in OTAs, and players seems to respond to his leadership.
It has been all positive to this point, but he'll be tested a bit more in minicamp next week and much more during training camp.
Regarding changes head coach Arthur Smith will make in his second season, there will certainly be some in camp and the preseason that will be easier identified this summer. He was asked about going from Year 1 to Year 2 on Friday. Here's what he had to say:
"I was a rookie head coach last year," Smith said. "Just like we do with the players and our staff, I challenged myself to look for ways I could improve. There are things you feel like you can accomplish. Last year, it felt like you would blink and it would be 10 o'clock at night. You have to look at what you want to get done, what's practical and what's not. You feel like you're hitting your stride. It's certainly more comfortable for me entering Year 2 as well."
Take a look at cornerback A.J. Terrell sporting the classic red helmet originally worn by the Atlanta Falcons in 1966.
John Chandler from Nashville, Tenn.
I'm a new Falcon fan. I would so love to see Arthur Smith, Marcus and the entire Falcons team have a great year. I've seen Marcus put his team on his back many times and win games. He always puts the team first and takes the high road. In recent years, the Titans have struggled with consistent OL play, especially in the passing game which was part of what created big problems for Marcus and now Tannehill now with the 2nd most sacks in the NFL. How strong is the OL coaching and the entire offensive line? Btw - Dean Pees is incredible. He will get the most out of folks.
Bair: Welcome to the fan base, John. They're happy to have you. Ha. I would agree that the offensive line must be better than in years past, and even mobile quarterbacks need protection. It's no shock that some of Mariota's struggles mirror when he was getting sacked a lot. He was taken down often in 2018 and '19, with an 11.3 and 13.5 sack percentage, respectively, It was all the way down to 5.6 when the Titans made the playoffs.
To answer your question directly, offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford is darn good at what he does. I think they're set at left tackle and right guard, and I think Elijah Wilkinson, Justin Shaffer and Germain ifedi could shake some things up at right tackle or left guard. Drew Dalman will compete at center. I think that will make the line better and deeper, though, in the long-term, they might need to add more talent to the crew.
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