It was obvious what was on the media’s mind while watching Dennis Pitta’s return to football during Thursday’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
It will also be on fans’ minds when they get their first look at Pitta’s attempted comeback. Initally, there will be collective breath holding every time he runs a route, every time he catches a ball and every time he’s fiercely tackled.
But even after suffering two major hip injuries, followed by two grueling rehabilitations, the seventh-year veteran swears he isn’t giving a second thought to his hip while playing.
“Fortunately, it doesn’t [enter my mind],” Pitta told a large group of media following Thursday’s practice. “If it did, I probably wouldn’t be out here.
“That was a big factor that weighed into the decision. Am I going to be thinking about it? Am I going to be confident in the stability of the hip? And the answer is: I’m not worried about it. I’m totally confident in it. And that’s why I’m back out here.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh has a similar outlook. When he watches Pitta, he’s not apprehensive either. Instead, Harbaugh thinks about what all coaches think about: football. How is Pitta’s route-running? How do his hands look? Is he reacting correctly to the coverage?
“It’s not where you’re thought process goes,” Harbaugh said. “The last thing on my mind is an injury, really for any player. That’s not how you think about it. I don’t think anybody has that on their mind when they’re competing.”
Because Harbaugh was focused on how Pitta was actually playing, rather than another potential injury, he could get an idea of his tight end’s football progress.
“He looked good,” Harbaugh said. “He looked like Dennis Pitta to me.”
The Pitta that fans came to know and love, as one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets during the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII run, is still there. It’s important not to overstate it, of course. After all, it’s May. The team has had a total of three non-contact practices. Pitta has been out of football for nearly two years.
“This is nothing,” Harbaugh said of OTA practice intensity. “This is touch football.”
The signs are very encouraging up to this point, however. And for Pitta, his expectations for himself are the same as they’ve always been, even before his first hip injury in July of 2013.
“My expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” he said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year.
“… To be honest, I feel really good physically out there. Obviously I haven’t played football in a while, so there are some things I’m getting back used to, but overall, I can’t complain. I feel great out there. I feel like I’m running like I want to and like I used to.”
Pitta was asked if there was *any *difference in how he feels in this year’s OTAs compared to previous times. There are two.
The first is actually his health. He feels better than ever before because there are no lingering issues. Second, his quarterback and good friend, Flacco, isn’t out there. Over the last few years, it’s been Pitta on the sideline watching OTAs, but now the roles are reversed.
The decision to play football again and risk further injury was not easy for Pitta. It was a disciplined and methodical process that required feedback from doctors, family and friends.
In the end, Pitta said he knows his situation best and feels confident in his decision – even if he did have to convince a few close ones that it was correct.
“I’m thankful for those that have been in my corner all along and had my best interest in mind,” Pitta said. “I have a great support team behind me and we all feel good about this move.”