FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Kyle Pitts had an excellent, nearly historic rookie season. Last year's No. 4 overall pick made an instant (and profound) impact on his Falcons, earning Pro Bowl honors for a campaign where he finished with 68 catches for 1,026 yards. That's second most by a rookie tight end in NFL history.
It also prompted head coach Arthur Smith to say, despite such massive totals, that Pitts was "just scratching the surface" of his true potential. That's high praise, though not hyperbolic.
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Pitts is that good. And he seems to understand there's room for far more, carrying a quiet, pressure-free confidence into that effort.
The tight end has elevated goals for this campaign, but he isn't reading his checklist out loud. At least not in front of a microphone.
"That's confidential," Pitts said with a smile.
The Florida product admits they're written down. Where? He isn't willing to volunteer.
"I can't give you all the secrets," Pitts said. "I do have it somewhere, and I look over it pretty often."
Those goals, whatever they are, fuel him through the daily grind.
"That's something that I'm thinking about every practice, every morning when I wake up, in meetings, in camp." Pitts said. "That's something I have in the back of my mind every day when I come out here, that I have bigger goals to achieve."
They'll be easier this time around, in part because the game isn't played in fast forward. That's how it feels for rookies early on, even highly touted ones. The action seems faster with mental processing slowed down by a new scheme.
He has the Falcons system down now, which provides time to looks for ways to exploit defenders.
"It has slowed down. Just a tick. Just a little bit," Pitts said with a wry smile. "It was slower than it was last year because I'm more confident knowing the game. I'm seeing defenses and I'm trying to break them down. That said, I'm still studying my game to try and play faster."
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He's also trying to be more consistent with a schedule he has established and is sticking to. It's part of a concept the 21-year-old calls "adulting," something most of us don't get to until their late 20s, early 30s.
That means he takes care of his body. He takes time to go over plays at the end of the night to avoid mental mistakes the next morning. He's lifting hard. He's eating right.
That helps him individually. He's also accepting of a more vocal leadership role.
That may sound surprising for those who think Pitts is quiet. That's flat false. He's easy going. He's funny. And, to borrow one of Arthur Smith's favorite terms, he's authentic.
That's illustrated in how he leads, and his willingness to do it in an encouraging way.
It's about being one of the speakers on offense and setting the right example," Pitts said. "It's something that comes with adulting and maturing," Pitts said. "To be able to just do it, to take your guard down and just speak and be yourself. Don't do anything more. Don't do anything less."
Part of that effort will be guiding the Falcons through somewhat of a transition year where outside expectations are low but insulated from those on the team.
"In the building, we know what we have to do and how we have to perform," Pitts said. "It's not about what other people have to say. It's about what we do and what we show."
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