Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has worked more than four months to come back from a hip injury that appeared all but certain to end his 2013 season in late July. He’ll complete that journey against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Facing a 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday for Pitta to be eligible to play in Week 14, the Ravens moved the fourth-year tight end from injured reserve to the 53-man roster. Many thought rookie safety Brynden Trawick might be placed on injured reserve to make room for Pitta on the active roster, but the Ravens instead elected to waive running back Bernard Scott, who didn’t appear in a game for Baltimore.
The Ravens will likely limit Pitta’s snaps in his first live-game action since Super Bowl XLVII when he caught a touchdown pass to help Baltimore win its second championship in the last 13 years. Pitta took part in full-team drills this week after being limited to individual drills the previous two weeks leading up to games against the New York Jets and Pittsburgh.
“Ultimately, it’s up to me and how I feel,” Pitta said after Friday’s practice. “It’s a rare injury in sports, so the doctors are relying on me to see how I feel and how my body responds and all that. We’ll see.”
Pitta returned to practice on Nov. 20 after he was placed on IR with the designation to return in early September. After Pitta suffered a dislocated and fractured hip on July 27, the Ravens initially feared he would be lost for the season, but corrective surgery and subsequent magnetic resonance imaging revealed no ligament or cartilage damage in the hip area.
A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Pitta caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last season and added three more touchdown catches in the postseason. After veteran Anquan Boldin was traded in the offseason, Pitta was expected to see more time in the slot and more passes thrown his way this season before he was injured in the first week of training camp.
He is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, giving him extra incentive to return to action and prove he is the same player that he was before the serious injury. Of course, the Ravens are hoping Pitta can breathe life into their 29th-ranked offense and 19th-ranked passing game.
“Just having him out there makes him a threat,” fellow tight end Ed Dickson said. “Off the top of my mind, I think of the red zone. He’s a big target [and] he runs great routes. Dennis knows this offense better than anybody.”
With a wintry mix predicted for Sunday’s game, Pitta will not only be thrown into the middle of a playoff push but experience the harsh elements of December. The Ravens hope that Sunday’s tuneup will be enough for Pitta to gain the necessary confidence in playing three consecutive games against projected playoff teams to close the regular season.
A certain unknown remains with Pitta returning to live-game action and not knowing how his surgically-repaired hip will respond to contact. Reviews of Pitta’s performance in practices this week were positive, but practicing is a different arena than playing in games with high stakes.
“You always want to see how you’re going to respond after getting hit like that,” Pitta said. “It’s not something you can simulate in rehab or even in practice. It will be nice to kind of take that first hit and just see how it feels.”