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As the Falcons enter training camp, A.J. Terrell and Kyle Pitts look to set the tone

The two young stars battled in minicamp and figure to bring that same intensity once camp begins.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Mandatory Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Terrell and Kyle Pitts are the brightest two young stars currently on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster. The former first-round picks have thus far warranted their high selections, and they are undoubtedly key pillars in the organization’s long-term plans.

It seems, too, that they recognize and understand their roles in helping one another advance not only the team’s prospects but also their own abilities.

A primary storyline during Atlanta’s minicamp earlier this summer was the lively competition between Terrell – Pro Football Focus’s second-highest-graded cornerback last season – and Pitts – who joined Mike Ditka as the only rookie tight ends to surpass 1,000 yards. The two are among the best players under the age of 25 and all eyes are on them when they are matched up.

“We just bring the energy in practice whenever we line up against each other,” Terrell said at the Power 15 Showcase at Lakewood Stadium this summer. “Of course, he plays more tight end than receiver, so whenever we do line up against each other we just make it known that I’m here to get the best out of you, you’re here to get the best out of me and it will all play out during the season.”

At the start of Terrell’s career, he had the opportunity to practice against the likes of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Now, after that experience helped turn Terrell into one of the league’s top cornerbacks, it can also benefit the ascension of players like Pitts and wide receiver Drake London, the team’s most recent first-round pick.

This is one of the primary ways young players improve early in their careers, of course. The consistent repetition against other players at the peak of their respective games, but ones who have not yet placed a greater emphasis on staying rested for the long season to come. Pitts and Terrell are still hungry to prove themselves and make their marks on this league, and that translates into practice as well as gameday.

Terrell broke out in the biggest possible way during his second season, putting together a campaign that ranks among the best Atlanta has ever seen at cornerback. Pitts can build off of a strong rookie year and solidify himself as a top-tier player at the position, and he’s dedicated himself this offseason to make that happen.

He attended the popular Tight End University for the second time this summer, learning from the best at the position both past and present. High on the list of speakers that resonated with Pitts was former Indianapolis Colts tight end, who was a primary receiving threat for many years with Peyton Manning.

While Pitts continues to pick up savvy tips and tricks from some of the top tight ends, he’s also placing a big emphasis on the mental side of his game.

“I would say going into college is when I really learned about the mental game,” Pitts explained while also attending the Power 15 Showcase. “Just knowing that you’ve got to win there in order to win physically. That’s something I try to hone in and try to perfect each year, each day in life.”

Atlanta is in a bit of a middle state in terms of expectations for the 2022 season. Externally, the public sentiment is that this team has a better shot at landing the No. 1 draft pick than reaching the postseason. But the Falcons surprised some last year by winning seven games, and all indications from Arthur Smith are that he wants his team to have that same mindset again this fall.

And why shouldn’t he? His job is to win football games, and it doesn’t necessarily benefit the future of this organization by crippling the culture in the locker room just to secure a higher draft pick. With financial flexibility coming for the 2023 offseason, it’s beginning to look like there’s a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.

How bright that light truly is depends on players like Pitts and Terrell, who have established themselves in this league well ahead of schedule. If their level of in-practice competition proves to be contagious, perhaps the Falcons, too, can get ahead of schedule.

“Just work and competition,” Terrell said, “giving him my best and him giving me his best and it’ll be special in the long run.”