FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Arthur Smith was actually answering a question about Kyle Pitts when he started to veer slightly with a very specific analogy he wanted to share.
He was discussing how the "really good players make the really hard plays look easy." He said you see this across the professional sports world. He used Steph Curry as one of his favorite examples.
Curry's release, Smith said, "it's a thing of beauty." The reps that he puts into perfecting his shot? It's obvious. When you see it all put together up close?
"It's just so damn impressive," Smith said. "... Sometimes you just hope that people won't take that for granted when you're watching some of these professional athletes."
Smith ventured to this line of thinking as he was talking about the evolution of his rookie tight end. He was thinking back to some of the plays Pitts made in the Falcons loss to the 49ers this past Sunday. And even some of the plays he didn't technically make like ripping the ball out of Ambry Thomas' hands down the sideline before halftime. He almost caught that ball, Smith said, and it was noteworthy to him.
"That just shows you a man that size with that spatial awareness and body control," Smith said. "To me, that's impressive."
Never one to overhype someone too much, though, Smith said basing Pitts' thinking in reality and not the over sensationalization of social media is how the Falcons help their No. 4 overall draft pick adjust to life in the league. And so far, they've been impressed by the way Pitts has carried himself in his rookie year.
Smith noted some people can't handle the hype and responsibility that comes with the territory of being a top five draft pick.
"He's got a ways to go. He's a rookie. He's 21 years old," Smith said. "But he works every day and he has the right mindset."
Sometimes that work can go unnoticed. Other times it is progress that is difficult to pick up on when a first round draft pick comes in. There's an expectation already thrust upon them to be game-changing starters in the league on Day 1. But Matt Ryan said there are little ways in which Pitts has progressed that many may not pick up on.
Ryan explained Pitts' craft in his route running abilities has evolved. And in that, Ryan said the biggest difference in the Pitts who came into the league vs. the Pitts he sees playing now lies in his route releases.
"Releases are the key," Ryan said. "There is such great pass rushing in this league that if you're not winning routes within the first two or three yards it's going to be tough to have the time to be able to make those things come to life. I think he's continued to get better at that."
Communication between the veteran quarterback and the rookie tight end has continued to grow, too. There's a comfortability and awareness there now.
"There's less time between the two of us communicating what I expect on certain plays," Ryan said. "That's where you see a lot of growth, too."
Ryan said, ultimately, there are certain players you play with that can do special things and you have to give them the best opportunities to do that, to be that. Ryan said Pitts is one of those players, and he sees many opportunities ahead of him to continue to grow and evolve into one of the most exciting and talented young tight ends in the league.
And Smith, in his own way, agreed.
"He's been exactly who we thought he was," Smith said. "He's impacted games immensely, even if the ball hasn't gone his way... I'd argue he's just scratching the surface."
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