OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of the worst start in franchise history, the Ravens received a bit of good news on Wednesday with the return of veteran tight end Dennis Pitta to the practice field.
Whether they will see him play in a game again remains to be seen.
On the reserve physically unable to perform list after suffering two serious hip injuries in the last two years, the 30-year-old has entered a 21-day practice window to determine whether he will return to live-game action in 2015. Pitta is eligible to be activated at any point during the 21 days, but he must be placed on the 53-man roster or remain on the PUP list for the rest of the season by the end of the practice window.
“It’s a start,” said Pitta after his first practice. “This is an assessment period for us — for me, for the trainers and for the coaches — to really see where we’re at. This is just Day 1 of our journey. I think it felt pretty good and I’m encouraged by that, and [it’s] certainly great to be back out there with my teammates. We’ll see where we go from here.”
Pitta was suited up in full pads, running routes and participating in blocking drills during the portion of practice open to media. Needing to adjust to the speed of the game again and even lamenting a dropped pass during hist first practice practice, Pitta said he didn’t anticipate feeling this good at this point.
By drafting tight ends Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle a year after selecting Crockett Gillmore in the 2014 draft, the Ravens planned not to have Pitta moving forward, but a passing game currently lacking weapons would certainly welcome back a player of his ability — at least prior to the hip injuries.
“I know it’s Dennis’ decision along with his family,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s going to see how [the hip] feels out here and how it responds. He’s been working really hard to get himself in position — along with our trainers and our strength and conditioning staff — to prepare for this. We’ll see how it goes. I wouldn’t make too much of it, especially for this week. Don’t get carried away.”
It remains unclear whether Pitta will be able to return this season as he hasn’t played in a game since suffering a second dislocation and fracture of his right hip in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014, just 14 months after experiencing the first injury in 2013. The 2010 fourth-round pick did individual work during voluntary workouts in the spring, but he was not cleared to participate in the mandatory June minicamp or training camp this summer.
Pitta says he’s received varying opinions from those close to him over whether to make his latest comeback. The Brigham Young product acknowledged his wife, Mataya, was “not really excited” about his return to the practice field in fear of something going wrong, but he added that she remains supportive over what he’s doing.
“I’ve had people on both ends of the spectrum, certainly people that have discouraged me against it and people that have encouraged me to get back out there,” Pitta said. “I weigh both opinions heavily. Really, I feel good physically, and I’m just excited to continue this process and see where I can get to.”
Signed to a five-year, $32 million contract including $16 million guaranteed prior to last season, Pitta was guaranteed his $4 million base salary for the 2015 season. The veteran tight end has said all along that he wanted to try to make a comeback, but dealing with such a serious injury twice would make anyone ponder his football future as well as his overall quality of life after his career.
Though he’s made no formal decision beyond his current comeback attempt, Pitta indicated that retirement would be a consideration if he’s unable to come back this season.
“I would like to think that if I can’t make it back this year, what’s going to change next year?” Pitta said. “For me, in my mind, I’m working to get back this year. If I can’t, that might be it. That’s certainly undecided, and I don’t really know how to answer that.”
A close friend of quarterback Joe Flacco, Pitta has made 138 catches for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career and also caught a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLVII.
Regardless of whether he ever suits up in a game, the mere sight of a healthy Pitta back on the practice field was a positive development in a season that’s gone so wrong for the Ravens.
“It’s definitely good to see him out there,” said Flacco, who added that will not pressure his friend and teammate to play again. “I think everybody appreciates seeing him in a uniform, and they’re happy for him to be able to get back out there and strap back up.”