One burning question for every Falcons position group post-minicamp, Pt. I: The offense

What will this offense look like with Kyle Pitts back in it? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The concept of this article shouldn't be foreign to you for two reasons. For starters, the format is explained in the headline. Secondly, I've written this exact article already. The difference, however, is that I did so months ago, back before the Falcons made the moves they did in free agency... Back before we saw who they drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft... Back before I ever saw this 2023 Falcons team take the field for a practice. Now they've done all of those things, so I wanted to revisit this format. 

I wanted to do so because my questions - and perhaps yours, too - have changed quite drastically since we last listed out questions like this. We have seen a handful of practices and all of mandatory minicamp after all. 

Just like last time, we'll start with the offense before moving to highlight the defense on Friday. So, let's get into it.

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Quarterback

What will Desmond Ridder's connection with Kyle Pitts look like when the tight end returns?

There were many Falcons offensive players that had high praise for Ridder throughout OTAs. Even on the final day of minicamp, Arthur Smith complimented Ridder and his awareness of where his playmakers are on the field. 

The Falcons are still missing a playmaker, though: Kyle Pitts.

He'll be back by the start of the 2023 season, but without seeing him with Ridder since last training camp (and even that was sparingly) I can't help but wonder what this offense will look like with Pitts' return. 

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We haven't seen Ridder and Pitts on the field together in a game yet. Pitts suffered his season-ending knee injury in Week 11 of last season, while Ridder didn't become the starter until Week 15. This is something I am looking forward to seeing because I can't help but think Ridder being in the pocket has the potential to do what it did for Drake London in the final games of 2022 for Pitts in 2023. 

Just statistically speaking, London had three of his most productive games when Ridder was his quarterback. Will that mean we see an immediate uptick in production from Pitts when he returns in Week 1? No. That's not what that means. But perhaps it gives you a little hope that we will see closer to 2021 Pitts production this year. 

All-in-all, I am none too worried that this connection between quarterback and primary-pass-catching tight end will be evident once we actually see it in real time. But that's why it's a question right now, because we haven't seen it in real time yet.

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Running back

How does Cordarrelle Patterson's role shift in 2023?

In two years' time, we've seen two different Cordarrelle Pattersons. In his first year in Atlanta, he was just as much of a threat catching the ball as he was running the ball. His snaps as a true running back vs. that of his snaps as a receiver were more balanced. His versatility as a playmaker shined as brightly as anyone in the league in 2021. 

Last year saw a change out of necessity, though. Patterson's role had to shift towards that of a traditional back in 2022, and because of that, his production in the pass game decreased. 

From conversations with both Patterson and Smith throughout minicamp, it would seem both parties want to get back to Patterson's 2021 role now that Smith has Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson at his disposal. 

There are a lot of things about this team that we just won't know until we get a few weeks into the season (you know, when the real football is happening). How this running back room will be used and deployed is at the top of that list. How Patterson's role continues to evolve is 1B in my notebook.

Wide receiver

Who is WR2?

Here's where I stand on this question: I have been asked it a few times in the last few months, and since being at practice throughout that time the answer to this question doesn't matter in this offense. 

And don't get me wrong, I completely understand why Falcons fans lean on this question. For so long in Atlanta, the wide receiver hierarchy was not just apparent, but sacred. Again, I understand why: When you have the likes of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on your team it makes sense to ask.

That era is over in Atlanta, though, and the new one is extremely different.

In my opinion, because of the way this offense is ran, asking about who WR2 is is not the right question. I say this because WR2 can be TE1 (Pitts), WR1 (Drake London) or any of the running backs (Patterson, Allgeier or Robinson) depending on the package and the alignment and the moment. The list can go on and on, too, including Jonnu Smith, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, etc.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't care about WR2, but I am saying that within the scope of this offense and how it's ran, you should care more about the structure of the groupings of offensive weapons and how they're used in the pass game. That's the better question.

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Tight end

If John FitzPatrick makes the 53-man roster, in what capacity will it be in?

OK. I know what you're thinking: "Tori, why in the world are you using the tight end section of this article to talk about anyone other than Kyle Pitts?" Well, hear me out: We've already talked about Pitts, and nothing has changed between the time you read that section and now. We still haven't seen Pitts on the field. So, yes, all of the questions about Pitts remain.

Someone we have seen on the field (for nearly the first time in this capacity) is John FitzPatrick, the Falcons final draft pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

In terms of depth, the Falcons are in a pretty good spot at tight end. Pitts will return eventually. The Falcons picked up Jonnu Smith in the offseason and I feel like I have a pretty solid idea of his role in this offense. Parker Hesse, Tucker Fisk and Feleipe Franks all return, too. It's FitzPatrick that I am most intrigued by, though. 

We didn't get to see FitzPatrick much at all in 2022 because he was working through a foot injury. Now, he's been at every single open practice this spring and I can't help but take notice of him being an extension of the offensive line to a certain extent. 

Being an asset in the run game is something of a strength for FitzPatrick. At Georgia, FitzPatrick was known to be the tight end to do the dirty work, perhaps taking on a block that very few wanted to. His role in that offense was one that could easily be overlooked, but it became a reason why the Falcons thought to draft him. For that reason, I have enjoyed watching him work with Allgeier and the would-be starting offensive line in certain drills that highlight the Falcons run blocking. 

Does this practice work carry over enough to keep FitzPatrick on the 53-man roster? I'll be interested to find out.

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Offensive line

Has Matt Hennessy secured a starting spot at left guard?

With the moves the Falcons have made to keep Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in Atlanta, there were no open spots across the Falcons offensive line outside of left guard. 

In 2022, when healthy and when Elijah Wilkinson wasn't, Matt Hennessy slotted into that spot. However, when the Falcons drafted Matthew Bergeron, moving up in the second round to do so, it began the debate as to who would ultimately win the left guard spot. 

Through OTAs, I never once saw anyone other than Hennessy taking the would-be, first-team reps at left guard. And here's the thing: I think that's OK. Before anyone starts worrying about Bergeron's development, I think we should pump the breaks. I think the Falcons are quite aware of what happened with Jalen Mayfield. Here's a player who was thrown to the wolves in his rookie year, playing a position he hadn't played at all in college. I don't think the Falcons want to make that mistake twice. So, in my mind, they're taking their time with Bergeron. They're not forcing him into a spot that he's not ready for. Like Mayfield, Bergeron also never played inside throughout college. There's going to be learning curves and growing pains. And for the time being, the Falcons have the means to give Bergeron something they couldn't give Mayfield: Time to develop without being under scrutiny and pressure. 

It's difficult to tell how well Hennessy is doing at left guard when no one's in pads nor is anyone going 100 percent. But so far, there's no glaring issues that stick out. With that being said, I am OK with the Falcons sticking with Hennessy for the time being. I think Bergeron has a lot to learn and the more cushion the Falcons can give him the better.

Take a look at the 2023 Atlanta Falcons in action during mandatory minicamp, presented by MegaFit Meals.

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