While the Pittsburgh Steelers are shuffling through their tight end depth chart in the hopes of cobbling together enough warm bodies to assemble a competent group of players, some of whom are currently injured, the Baltimore Ravens are wondering how they can keep all of the ones they have accumulated.
Complicating the numbers game has been the somewhat surprising return of Dennis Pitta, who has essentially missed the past two seasons, and who was advised by doctors not to pursue a return to football at the risk of the health of his surgically repaired hip, which could result in debilitating effects in his post-career life.
But up to now, he has had little issue in practice, moving around smoothly and without pain and by most accounts looking largely like his old self, much to the delight of Joe Flacco, the team’s quarterback, on whom he relied during the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl run in particular.
But a slight monkey wrench was thrown into the gears recently after Pitta suffered an injury in practice. Not to his hip, fortunately, but rather to a finger. The Ravens expect him to miss some time due to the injury, with head coach John Harbaugh saying that he “will be out a little while”, though it is unclear how long he might find himself sidelined.
In reality, however, Pitta’s return was sort of the icing on the cake for the Ravens, who were fully prepared to move on without him this year, even after he announced that he intended to make an attempt at returning to the field.
Last year, Baltimore drafted not one, but two tight ends, including Maxx Williams in the second round, as well as Nick Boyle, who received playing time last year and did well. The latter, however, is set to serve a 10-game suspension to start the season.
In addition to Williams and Boyle, there is third-year tight end Crockett Gillmore, whom the team likes quite a bit, and who was the starter for most of the season last year, though he is also recovering from an injury of his own.
In free agency, they went out and signed veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, who is also serving as the team’s representative for the NFLPA. Watson has had a long career in many places, but he saw an offensive rejuvenation last season while playing with the Saints and their high-powered offense.
Watson caught 74 passes last season for 825 yards and six touchdowns, all of those figures representing career-highs, and he did so at the age of 34. With Watson, Williams, and Gillmore, the Ravens already have a solid group, with Boyle returning late in the season.
If Pitta proves healthy and plays to his old standards, the Ravens, however, will find room for him, whether it means letting one of the other tight ends go or taking that roster spot from another position. With a wide receiving group that has been turned on its head, it would only be of benefit to Flacco to have that familiar target, particularly as he works his way back from a torn ACL.