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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are spending their bye week trying to rectify issues in all three phases of the game, but their offense appears to be moving closer to regaining a critical piece of the passing game.
Out of action since dislocating and fracturing his hip on July 27, tight end Dennis Pitta continues to inch toward his return to action as it now appears to only be a question of when and not if he’ll be playing again in 2013. Pitta remains on injured reserve with the designation to return, but the fourth-year tight end could be back within the next month or so.
Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t go as far as confirming an ESPN report saying that Pitta would be back by the end of next month at the latest, but he did acknowledge the progress the injured player has made over the last three months. Pitta was first spotted catching passes from the Jugs machine during the opening portion of an Oct. 4 practice and began running on a treadmill several weeks ago.
“Nothing has changed as far as I know,” said Harbaugh when asked about a mid- to late-November timetable for Pitta’s return. “Everything is on schedule. There have been no setbacks with Dennis, so we’ll just have to see how it goes. Until we get him on the field and see him start running around, I think we’ll know more then. I’m looking forward to that. That will be very interesting.”
By rule, Pitta was eligible to return to the practice field after the Ravens’ Week 6 loss to the Packers and would be eligible to play against Cleveland a week from Sunday, but he is not expected to be ready to return to live-game action until later in November.
The Ravens have struggled to receive production from the tight end position this season as Dallas Clark has collected 23 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns and Ed Dickson has made just seven catches for 93 yards. Last year, Pitta caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season.
He has regularly been at the team’s Owings Mills facility as he continues to work his way back to full strength from an injury that was initially expected to sideline him for the entire year.
“He’s working his tail off rehab-wise,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who’s been forced to make up for the losses of both Pitta and Anquan Boldin this season. “It’s always pretty cool to see him in there and really see his progression. Hopefully, he can get back. I don’t know an exact date and if I did, I wouldn’t give out any hints anyways, but he’s definitely looking a lot better. I think just the fact that you can even see him walking — considering what he’d done — is awesome.”
Osemele’s back affecting play
Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele confirmed a report earlier this week that he expects to undergo offseason back surgery after the season.
After it was decided that Osemele would not have surgery last offseason, the second-year lineman has struggled to play through the injury this season and missed most of the Ravens’ Week 5 win over the Miami Dolphins due to back spasms. The former second-round pick is looking forward to four days off to rest his back during the Ravens’ bye week.
“Obviously, I’ve been dealing with it for a while and it’s getting to the point where eventually I’m going to have to go ahead and get that fixed,” said Osemele, who admitted the bouts of pain are becoming more frequent. “I was avoiding it for as long as I could, gambling with i, but I just can’t afford to gamble with it any longer. It’s something I’m going to have to deal with after the season.”
Harbaugh praised Osemele earlier in the week for pushing through the pain as the Ravens’ best backup option behind him is the undersized A.Q. Shipley.
Osemele acknowledged that the back injury is affecting his play, which is no surprise as many have seen a significant drop-off from his rookie season when many predicted he would blossom into a Pro Bowl guard as early as this year. Instead, he has been just one of many concerns for an underperforming offensive line.
“The back’s a big thing,” Osemele said. “It’s connected to everything. It’s connected to your legs. It’s everything from that point down is affected. It’s affected my power. I’m an offensive lineman. I need to have strong legs. So, obviously it’s affected me.”
Bynes eyeing return for Cleveland game
Recovering from surgery for an infection in his finger, inside linebacker Josh Bynes expressed optimism earlier in the week that he would be ready to go for the Ravens’ first post-bye game in Cleveland.
Harbaugh indicated that would be a realistic goal but wasn’t ready to use the same terminology regarding the young linebacker’s status.
“I don’t know if ‘expected’ is the right word,” Harbaugh said. “I guess I probably feel that way, but I don’t want to speak, because you never know with an infection. There’s a good chance that he would be [ready].”
How both Bynes and veteran Jameel McClain will fit into the defense remains to be seen as McClain started at weakside inside linebacker in Pittsburgh.
Ravens keeping roster spot open for now
With Monday’s news of the Ravens trading veteran tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a conditional late draft pick, a spot on the 53-man roster remained open as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re still working ourselves through that,” Harbaugh said. “It could be a practice squad promotion. It could be somebody off a practice squad roster or somebody who’s available right now as a free agent.”
According to The Sun, the Ravens worked out former Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells in what might be an indication of continued concerns over the health of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but the 2009 first-round pick wasn’t signed immediately. Wells rushed for 1,047 yards in 2011, but injuries limited him to eight games last season before he was released this past March.
Tuesday practice report
Pierce (undisclosed), Osemele (back), Bynes (finger), linebacker Albert McClellan (shoulder), and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (groin) were not participating during the portion of Wednesday’s workout open to the media.
Players were released on Wednesday afternoon for the remainder of the week and will report back to Owings Mills on Monday. The collective bargaining agreement requires at least four straight days off for players during the bye week.