Camp report: Kyle Pitts, Desmond Ridder making strides building chemistry

We also provide a Matt Hennessy injury update, discuss another Clark Phillips splash play and more

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Kyle Pitts started on the left side of the formation and worked his way across the field to his right with a cover man in tow. There wasn't much room to complete a pass, so Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder snuck his throw in low and toward the sideline.

The tight dove for it and snatched but a few feet from the ground for what would be a nice brag under any circumstances. This one meant just a smidge more as he returns from last year's knee surgery to repair a torn MCL.

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"I told him it was good that he got on the ground," head coach Arthur Smith said after Saturday's practice. "He actually has to wash his jersey, which is a plus. That's part of his return to play, getting back out there and getting his sea legs back."

It was, in its own small way, another test passed. Pitts said it "brought me one step closer" in his return from the injury. The Falcons are carefully bringing him along now that training camp is in full swing. It has gone well to this point, and moments like Pitts' diving catch are proof of that.

"We're very pleased," Smith said. "Every day he's doing more, and he could probably do more than he's doing. If we had to play in two weeks, maybe we'd go a little bit different."

There are six full weeks until Week 1, so there's no reason to push the pace. There's plenty of time to both get right and work on other important aspect of this training camp.

Building chemistry with Ridder.

The pair haven't worked a game together, with Ridder's four NFL starts coming after Pitts got hurt. They didn't get tons of reps in last preseason, either, with Pitts working primarily with Marcus Mariota.

That's why Ridder and Pitts started this process before camp even started.

"Once I was able to get back and start running, we got back together a couple times and connected on some routes on a field by ourselves," Pitts said. "Now it's about going up against another people and getting the timing right. It's a slow drip."

It was an important time for both guys, so they could make up for time lost with Pitts out during the offseason program.

"I mean, we didn't get many reps this past season," Ridder said. "I wanted him to get used to me and for me to see how he runs routes and how he works in space."

Timing is key with a quarterback and a primary receiver, especially someone as tall and sneaky fast like Pitts. They also have to understand the differences between Pitts out wide and in-line, adjusting to the variables of Pitts playing in so many spots.

That's why they got an early start in this process.

How long will it take to find great sync?

"I would necessarily say there's a timeline," Pitts said. "It's just about making the bond stronger and our working relationship stronger."

Matt Hennessy update

Left guard Matt Hennessy got some good news from an MRI a day after he left practice with an injury Smith said was related to an ailment from late last year. That was a knee issue, which could've been troubling.

The imaging showed positive things, eliminating long-term injury concerns.

"Good news on the MRI, all things considering," Smith said. "We'll see what he can do, hopefully something next week. That part of it was encouraging. Unless something unforeseen happens, we expect him back pretty soon."

Second-round rookie Matt Bergeron has run with the first unit since Hennessy left and, despite being young in his transition from tackle to guard, has shown relatively well.

"His hands look pretty good so far, but we won't really know until we get down and actually getting in the games," Smith said. "But you can feel him out there. He moves well. He looks pretty natural so far. That part of it has been really encouraging."

Massive crowd turns out for Saturday session

The Falcons worked out in front of the biggest camp crowd I've seen in three seasons covering this team. I mean, there was a line down the just waiting to get in even after practice started. GM Terry Fontenot and Smith spoke to the massive contingent before the action really got going on what the NFL dubs "Back Together Weekend."

They were into the practice from start to finish – boy, do they love Bijan Robinson – and are clearly interested in all the new players Fontenot acquired in free agency and the NFL draft. The intrigue is appropriate, and several players said afterward the sight of so many fired them up.

Phillips with another splash play

Fourth-round rookie cornerback Clark Phillips III hasn't had a perfect start to camp, but he has made a number of big plays over camp's first four practices.

He got beat by Slade Bolden in receiver/DB drills early in Saturday's session but made an excellent read on Logan Woodside during team 7-on-7, jumped a route and took it for what would've surely been a pick-6 in a normal game.

"He has made some splash plays that everybody has seen, but there are some other things he needs to clean up, like any other rookie," Smith said. "I want our guys to be passionate and celebrate with teammates, but he was supposed to still be in there. So, as he took his victory lap and waving to the crowd, we need to go. Great play. He jumped it. The instincts were there, which we saw at Utah. But celebrate with your teammates and get right back. We have other things to work on.

"That's what I love about this team – they work. Yesterday in one-on-ones he had a good day. Today he got beat. That happens in the NFL, where it's good on good. But he came back out there and made a play. He's fun to coach. I'm glad he's here."

What else stood out

This might've been QB Desmond Ridder's best day overall in the first four practices. He seemed in command and on time with many of his throws, often finding windows where only his guy could get it. He got CB Jeff Okudah – that has been hard to do this week – with a back-shoulder throw to WR Scotty Miller. He also did a nice job on a play action rollout thrown to WR Penny Hart. … Taylor Heinicke also had some nice moments, it must be noted, especially as practice wore on. … DL Ikenna Enechukwu returned after missing time with tendinitis. RB Cordarrelle Patterson also worked following a rest day. … New signing DT Justin Ellis proved a force on the inside in his first day as a Falcon. While fellow newbie DL Kemoko Turay has played outside linebacker in the past, he had his hand in the dirt on Saturday working with the defensive line. …Falcons defensive backs continue getting their hands on the ball. S Jessie Bates broke up a pass on a short, in-cutting route that looked so smooth. CB A.J. Terrell also got a hand in to knock a touchdown away from WR Frank Darby. ... RB Bijan Robinson was his usual self again on Thursday, showcasing a unique ability to beat others to the edge, start and stop on a dime and find a way to sneak open as a receiver. There wasn't a jaw-dropper like his TD catch the day before, but it's clear the man has unique talent.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 Back Together Saturday of AT&T Training Camp.

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