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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After suffering what appeared to be a season-ending hip injury in late July, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta officially returned to the practice field on Wednesday.
Reports last month indicated the 2010 fourth-round pick was on track to return to action by late November, which would aid the 4-6 Ravens in their push to make the playoffs in an underwhelming pool of competitors who are vying for the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Pitta played catch and ran pass patterns at half-speed during the portion of Wednesday’s practice that was open to the media.
“It feels awesome to be able to get back, be in meetings with the guys, and hit the field a little bit,” Pitta said. “I feel great. I’m going to take it slow, make sure I can integrate myself back in and I’m feeling good.”
Placed on injured reserve with the designation to return in early September, the fourth-year tight end hasn’t played in nearly four months but took another step toward an in-season return from a dislocated hip suffered on July 27. Originally feared to be lost for the season, Pitta underwent successful surgery where no cartilage or ligament damage was discovered, keeping the possibility of a return open with the general timetable for a recovery set by doctors at three to four months.
Pitta did not directly answer whether he had a chance to play in Sunday’s game against the New York Jets when asked, but he mentioned several times that he would take it slow in his return to the field and needs to be at “an elite level” to be successful in his return. A return for next week’s game against Pittsburgh or a Week 14 contest against Minnesota might be more realistic, but the Ravens haven’t hesitated to quickly activate players coming off injuries in the past such as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs last year and inside linebacker Jameel McClain last month.
Pitta’s appearance on the practice field triggers a 21-day window in which he may take part in team workouts before the Ravens must place him back on the 53-man roster or leave him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Of course, the Ravens may return Pitta to the active roster sooner than that should he respond favorably to practice activity. Coach John Harbaugh said it’s “impossible to say” when Pitta will be ready to play in a game, but he’s been impressed with the tight end’s work ethic in getting himself back to playing shape.
“He came back in pretty quickly after the surgery and was able to move it around,” Harbaugh said. “What they do nowadays is pretty incredible with the techniques of surgery. There’s no casting or anything like that, and they’re moving it right away. He was able to walk pretty quickly after that. Then he was on the body weight stuff where they took the weight off and got him moving. [He was] lifting weights from Day 1 [and] running for the last number of weeks. He’s done a great job.”
Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Pitta said this being a contract year did not influence his decision to return or impact his rehabilitation process. He’s eager to see how his body responds to contact, which truly couldn’t be simulated without being back on the field.
Without Pitta available in the passing game, the Ravens have struggled offensively, ranking 30th in total offense and 19th in passing offense while averaging just 20.8 points per game. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark have combined for just 39 catches, 351 yards, and three touchdowns in Pitta’s absence this season.
Following the Ravens’ decision to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers in March, Pitta was expected to play a larger role in the passing game by working more extensively in the slot. His injury left quarterback Joe Flacco without his two best pass-catching options from last season.
“It’s nothing against anybody — receivers, tight ends, or anything — but I think anytime you lose a good player that’s been a big part of what we’ve done around here, you miss something,” Flacco said. “I don’t really know the extent of what Dennis is going to be able to do today or tomorrow or the next day, but it’s just always good to see somebody back and the fact that they can at least run around a little bit.”
Pitta’s injury was an extremely rare one seen on the football field as there were initial flashbacks to the hip injury suffered by former Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson that cost him his career in the early 1990s, but the Ravens medical staff acted swiftly in getting Pitta the best possible treatment.
His recovery over the last four months has been a difficult one while watching the defending Super Bowl champions struggle to win close games and replicate the level of success they experienced in his first three seasons in Baltimore.
“It’s really hard to watch and not be able to contribute and be with your team,” Pitta said. “Being injured — it’s tough. It’s a long journey and process getting back. Fortunately, I’ve got most of that behind me and I can get back on the field and be with the team a little bit more.”
The 28-year-old caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last season.