At about this time last year, tight end Dennis Pitta met with the media at the start of Ravens Organized Team Activities.
He answered seven questions. Six were about his hip, ranging from how he was feeling physically and mentally upon returning to the field, what his family thought of his decision to continue, to whether he was thinking about the possibility of another fracture.
The final question may have been the most interesting. It was about whether Pitta had to lower his expectations for the level he could play at.
“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said then. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year.”
Pitta made good on his word. After sitting out essentially two years, he turned in career highs in receptions (86 – most among NFL tight ends), receiving yards (729) and scored two touchdowns. He played in all 16 games and received a team-high 119 targets.
Now, one year later, Pitta’s in a wildly different situation.
During Thursday's practice open to the media, nobody held their breath watching Pitta play. He hauled in a leaping catch without a hitch.
“Yes, it feels very different,” Pitta said. “I am not getting as many questions about my hip; that is one [difference]. I feel good. I got to have a full offseason of just normal preparation. It feels good – feeling healthy.”
Pitta’s standing on the Ravens’ roster was even a bit of an unknown last year. Baltimore signed veteran Benjamin Watson and had young, promising players in Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller.
Watson, Williams and Gillmore all suffered injuries. Waller and Boyle were suspended for four and 10 games, respectively. That left Pitta carrying the load on what originally looked like a stacked tight end corps.
The Ravens have all those tight ends back this year in what again looks to be a very full room. Baltimore still kept Pitta, who will turn 32 in a month, though he took a pay cut for a second straight year.
“I think my money went to Brandon Williams. He owes me something,” Pitta joked.
“It was important for me to stay here. We have been here eight years, and have some deep roots here. I love playing for this team, for this organization, obviously for this city.”
Now with a full offseason of normal training, Pitta feels like he could be even better than last year. The Ravens could use him more as a red-zone target this season after last year’s leader in receiving touchdowns, Steve Smith Sr., retired. Pitta scored seven touchdowns in 2012 before his first hip injury.
Pitta also feels like having Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg running the unit at the start of the season will help the offense as a whole.
“Consistency at the offensive coordinator spot certainly helps,” Pitta said. “We have not had a lot of that over the years. I was one that was a little bit vocal last year in saying that we needed consistency. I’m happy that that is what we got, and that we can continue to build off of what we did last year.”