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Dennis Pitta: Return This Year Or Maybe Never


Dennis Pitta returned to practice Wednesday and felt good afterwards. 

The next question for the Ravens tight end is: if he doesn't feel any unexpected pain or suffer any setbacks over the next three weeks, when will he return to an NFL game?

Pitta doesn't have an answer to that question yet, but he's definitely set on returning this season. If he doesn't, well, it might not happen at all.

"I'd like to think that if I can't make it back this year, then what's going to change next year?" Pitta rhetorically asked reporters. "For me, in my mind, I'm working to get back this year. If I can't, then that might be it."

It's been 13 months to the day since Pitta fractured and dislocated his hip for the second time in two seasons, this time without any contact. The first time it happened was in training camp in 2013 and Pitta was back in a game in about four months.

So if Pitta isn't healthy and cleared to play after 13 months of healing and rehab, will he ever be?

Pitta returned to the field in shorts and a T-shirt for individual drills and to catch passes during Organized Team Activities in late May, but getting back in game condition is a whole other matter.

This is the first time Pitta's strapped on a helmet and taken to the field since his injury, so don't expect him to play on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals.

He and the Ravens will now have up to three weeks to determine whether he'll able to do that for a game. If Pitta isn't activated to the 53-man roster by Nov. 11, he must be placed on season-ending injured reserve.

It was a big first step, but there are more to go in a short period of time. Pitta called this an "assessment period."

"This is Day 1 of our journey and I think it felt pretty good," he said. "I didn't anticipate feeling this good at this point and being where I'm at. I'm certainly pleased by that. I'm happy to be out here playing football, to be honest. It felt really good."

Pitta said he still has rust to shake off and the game feels a little fast for him right now, which didn't surprise him. He joked that he dropped a pass in his first practice, "which, in my mind, is unacceptable."

Beyond the physical rehabilitation, it's been a mental strain for Pitta to come back. He's been in every meeting and at every practice watching from the sideline, unable to help his teammates as they've fallen into a 1-5 hole.

There's also the mental tax on the people around him, who have their own ideas about whether he should even attempt playing football again. Pitta said his wife isn't too excited about it.

"She was nervous last night and just didn't want to get a call that something went wrong today," Pitta said. "But she supports me and everything that I do and I'm lucky to have her.

"I've had people on both ends of the spectrum, certainly people that have discouraged me from it and people that have encouraged me to get back out there. I weigh both opinions heavily. Really, I feel good physically and I'm excited to continue this process and see where I can get to."

Even if he's able to come back, the Ravens may not have a place for Pitta.

They already have a breakout sophomore starting tight end in Crockett GIllmore and have been pleased with what they've gotten from rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, in whom they invested second- and fifth-round picks. Pitta would be a fourth tight end when the Ravens typically activate just three on gamedays, maximum.

"It's not entirely in my hands how the team feels about me playing and if I can potentially add any value to this team," Pitta said. "There are a lot of factors that will go into it and certainly a lot of decisions to be made, by not just me, but other individuals."

For now Pitta will remain in close contact with the team's trainers and his doctors, ready to report if anything in his hip feels funny. He said he's talked to the doctors and understands the risks of reinjuring his hip "quite well."

He's been cleared for contact or he wouldn't be out on the field wearing shoulder pads and doing as much as he feels comfortable with.

"There's definitely concern of getting injured, but I think that's the nature of football. I could go out and blow my ACL just as easily," said Pitta, who had to overcome the same fears in 2013.

"Déjà vu a little bit. I've kind of been through it before and know what it takes to get back out there. This time I've been out of football a lot longer. … It's a big difference."

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