Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is back on the practice field playing football.
For a long time, there wasn't a good vibe about Pitta's return, and the Ravens approached the NFL Draft as if Pitta wasn't going to be on the roster.
But as the team nears Organized Team Activities, the outlook is getting brighter.
It's still too early to know exactly when Pitta will be back on Sundays, but he's back alongside his teammates at practice and feeling pretty good. Those ruling him out for 2015 should take pause.
When speaking with season ticket holders on a conference call Tuesday, Head Coach John Harbaugh said Pitta "has a chance."
Asked point blank whether he'll play this season, Pitta rolled his eyes and chuckled.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "I feel good. But obviously it's a process. I have an idea in mind of where I'd like to be in a couple months, but at the same time you don't know. I know what it felt like to do this one time. I've never known what it felt like to do it twice."
It's been seven months and three weeks since Pitta collapsed to the ground in a Week 3 game against the Cleveland Browns. This time, he wasn't touched, yet still suffered a second dislocated and fractured hip, requiring season-ending surgery.
There were immediate questions about whether Pitta would ever play again, let alone the next season. Pitta had no doubt, however. He said that's not in his nature.
"I knew I would make an attempt to come back," he said. "This is what I love to do. Injuries are part of this game and you have to try to overcome them the best you can. You always want to leave this game on your own terms."
At the same time, the decision wasn't easy on his family.
"It's tough when your wife and your parents are looking on and you're lying on the field again with a serious injury," Pitta said. "Having gone through that two consecutive years, that takes a toll on them. They certainly want what's best for me and in my best interests, but at the same time they support me in whatever I choose moving forward."
Pitta went back into rehab, but this time it was slower.
He suffered his first hip injury on July 27, 2013, the first day of padded practice in training camp. He wanted to get back on the field later that season and did, returning in just more than four months on Dec. 8 to face the Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium.
Pitta has already been sidelined for two months longer than that, and will have another couple months before training camp begins. So he'll rehab for eight months – twice the amount of time.
"We definitely took it much slower," Pitta said. "After doing it twice, we wanted to take more time and make sure that I was as strong and stable as possible before getting back out there."
Pitta said the two rehabs have been very similar, except this one was more mentally taxing because it was over a longer period of time.
The threat of re-injuring his hip is something Pitta thinks about. He said it is more likely to happen again than somebody who has never suffered that injury, but doctors can't give him a percentage on how likely it would be. Is it 10 percent? Is it 50 percent?
"I would love to have a concrete number, but that's just not realistic," Pitta said. "You just don't know. I think it's that way with a lot of injuries."
So Pitta will continue pushing forward, continue listening to his body. At this point, doctors are letting him push it as much as he's comfortable with.
"Even for them, this is uncharted waters," Pitta said. "It's not scary. I just don't really know what to expect. I don't know how my body is going to respond."
In terms of the injury being healed, Pitta is 100 percent. In terms of him being back in football shape, he's not there yet. He can run and cut, he said. He's running routes and catching passes.
"I'm certainly encouraged by what I'm able to do on the field," he said. "Being out there, running routes, catching the football, that's what I love to do. So it's fun to be able to do that a little bit."
Pitta has a lot of company on the field now. With his status uncertain, the Ravens drafted two young tight ends, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, in the second and fifth rounds, respectively. Pundits are already slotting Williams into a starting role opposite returning rising sophomore Crockett Gillmore.
But talking to Pitta, it seems those projections may be a bit premature.
"I think it's great. Certainly we need depth at the position," he said. "We've got two young, talented tight ends. I think it's good for us moving forward, providing that depth and providing some extra weapons on the field."
So what are Pitta's expectations for 2015?
"I hope to be out there playing – at a high level," he said.