FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons traded for former first-round tight end Hayden Hurst before the 2020 season. Then a new regime drafted another one the following year, at No. 4 overall of all places.
They didn't do so to create direct competition between Hurst and Kyle Pitts. They aren't fighting for one spot, not in this offense anyway. There will be plenty of opportunities to go around for versatile pieces who can line up at most any skill spot.
"Everyone likes to make the comparison of me versus Kyle, but it's going to be me and Kyle," Hurst said after Friday's AT&T Training Camp practice. "Our tight end room is really special with me and Kyle and Lee Smith and the other guys. It has been really fun so far. It's a very tight-end friendly offense."
That's all so true, including the last part. Head coach Arthur Smith often employs multiple tight-end sets, and we'll see Pitts and Hurst on the field quite a bit. Both guys can line up anywhere, from standard in-line tight end to wide receiver or in the slot. They could even play H-back if needed.
That will allow Smith to be creative with a solid, deep offensive position group led by Hurst and Pitts.
"…I think we're going to be on the field a lot together and we're going to do some pretty special things. He brings a lot to the table. I think I bring a lot to the table, too. I proved it last year, and I'm looking to build on that. It's a big year for me, a free-agent year. I'm definitely focused."
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Hurst will enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2021 because the Falcons didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. Building on a solid first season in red and black, with 56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns, could set him up for a solid payday next spring.
That's a strong possibility considering he performed last year at 268 pounds, a hefty weight for someone with solid speed.
Now he's down 18 pounds and feeling way faster.
"Last year, I wasn't sure exactly what my role was going to be getting traded here, so I put on a lot of weight," Hurst said. "I was 268 then. Now I'm 250 and eight percent body fat. My biggest thing is my speed. I use that to put pressure on defense. Cutting the extra weight was huge for my body, especially heading into a longer 17-game season."
Hurst expects big things this season, but he's not trying to compete with a teammate he has gotten to know and like a great deal. They were often side by side during the June 23-25 Tight-End University summit, a position-specific camp created by George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen.
That relationship has grown this summer, as the Falcons start this camp.
"Kyle and I have a pretty good bond so far," Hurst said. "I'm getting to learn a lot about him. In camp, we're around each other 13 hours a day, so I'm getting to know him. Lee's back in the room, too, so it's great. It's been really fun and it's only Day 2."
We're still learning exactly how the tight ends will be used, though the picture will remain cloudy until the regular season starts. Hurst has looked back at when Smith was Titans offensive coordinator, and he saw opportunities aplenty for Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser.
"He did a ton for them in Tennessee," Hurst said. "You go back and watch the tape and see how he moved them around all the time. He had them out there together a lot, which put my mind at ease with everything going on. I know what I bring to the table. I know my value. I don't necessarily need all the hype. That doesn't do a lot for me. I'm focused on my goals and what I need to do."
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