Benjamin Watson Is Back, Preparing to Step up With Dennis Pitta Out

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When Dennis Pitta suffered his third major hip injury, it was Benjamin Watson who got under one of Pitta's arms and helped carry him to the training room.

Pitta knew immediately what had happened and how bad it was. That didn't stop Watson from praying all weekend that the test results would produce a miracle. They, unfortunately, didn't.

Now it's Watson who is needed to step up and help the Ravens' tight end corps and offense as a whole. He took a major first step Tuesday, as he returned to the field for the first time at minicamp.

"I woke up really early this morning like it was Christmas," Watson said.

Last year, with Pitta's future still a question mark, the Ravens signed Watson. When Watson went down with a preseason Achilles tear, Pitta picked up the slack. With Pitta out, it's Watson's turn again.

As Watson said on an upcoming episode of "The Lounge" podcast, "it's kind of weird" how the timing has worked out.

When Watson suffered such a major injury at 35 years old (now 36), there were questions about whether that was the end of his career.

But Watson knew he wanted to come back for a 14th year. He wanted to prove himself to the team that just invested two years and a reported $8 million into him.

"Every time you go to a new city, you have to earn the respect of fans, earn the respect of your teammates, you want to prove that you can play the game and contribute. Watching this year was one of the toughest things I've ever done," Watson said.

"This year, my goal was to come back and play. A lot of times, guys say, 'I don't want to go out like that, having an injury.' I do feel like that, but, more importantly, I feel like I have unfinished business with this team."

Watson's injury happened on Aug. 27 in the Ravens' third preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He simply burst off the line of scrimmage and crumbled to the turf in pain.

Watson still remembers going to the locker room and being set on the trainer's table. When he turned around, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was standing behind him. Smith, also in his twilight years, was in the midst of his comeback from the same injury.

"He followed me in because he knew what it was and he knew how it felt," Watson said. "He sat there with me for a long time, we shed tears, and he sat there and encouraged me because he knew what I was about to go through."

Watson counted seven surgeries over his career, but said the Achilles rehab is "definitely the toughest." Watson and Smith talked regularly throughout last season about the rehab and they've texted on a weekly basis since the season ended.

Last week, when Smith was back in Baltimore as an NFL Media member, he spoke about whether Watson can still play at a high level coming off an Achilles tear at his age – just like Smith did in his final season.

"Trying is not in his DNA. He's going to do it," Smith said. "He's at that point right now where you see light at the end of the tunnel, but it requires a lot of energy and a lot of hard work."

Watson said he's "nearing the end" of his rehab. Right now he's working on getting his calf stronger because it shriveled after the injury without being able to use his leg.

While he got on the field for practice Tuesday, he was limited to individual drills. He's running routes and catching passes again, but there's still more work to be done.

Watson said the goal Tuesday was to get his legs under him and not have any setbacks. He said it felt "awkward" doing football movements again, but he looked good for his first time out and snagged a one-handed catch.

"The toughest thing is going to be that transition," Watson said. "Once you get out there in training camp, having not played in a year, your body has to get used to football movements."

While Pitta's injury hurts, the Ravens still have depth at tight end with Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams (knee) and Darren Waller. Watson is determined to once again be the leader of the group, just as Pitta was last season.

"If I didn't think I could play, if I didn't have the desire to play, at this point and time in my career I would have walked off into the sunset," Watson said. "The goal is to get back and to be a player that can contribute and help us win games."

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