Falcons' Kyle Pitts practices for first time since MCL injury

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts said he is "pretty close" to peak form following his first practice after suffering a season-ending MCL injury in his right knee last November.

"Felt pretty good," Pitts said. "It was fun being back out here with the guys."

Pitts worked during individual drills and ran routes in one-on-one sessions during the first day of the team's mandatory acclimation period to open the 2023 season. He had a brace covering most of his right leg -- including his knee -- that he said was "precautionary."

"The fact that he's out there practicing, he's going to take some reps," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "We'll be smart, but that's a very encouraging sign."

Pitts said he didn't think his injury was serious when he jogged off the field against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 20. An MRI, however, told a different story -- that his knee would need surgery.

He said the news took a brief time to work through mentally because it was the first major injury of his career.

"I mean, it was just like, 'Damn.' And then you get over it," Pitts said. "You get the surgery done and then it's time to get back to work and get it strong so I can get back to who I was."

Pitts said he didn't remember when he started feeling like himself again, but he said he mentally started to focus on rehab after he woke from surgery on Nov. 29. He spent time rehabbing and also working on preventative maintenance to help make his right knee and the muscles and ligaments around it stronger.

He also spoke with veteran players who had dealt with similar injuries to gain "wisdom."

Pitts said he was "very anxious" watching his teammates during OTAs and minicamp because he wanted to get back on the field after a 2022 season in which he had 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns.

It was a departure from 2021, when he was a Pro Bowler and the second rookie tight end in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards (1,026 yards).

On Wednesday, the first two targets from starting quarterback Desmond Ridder in 7-on-7 were completions to Pitts.

"He's been in here working," Ridder said. "Ever since last season and his injury, he's done nothing but try to get back out there with us. Every single day, that's his goal or was his goal, to be back out there with his guys."