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Dennis Pitta Sees Nothing Between Him And Top Spot


Tight end Dennis Pitta is tired of talking about his hip.

After fielding the eighth question about it following Friday's practice, Pitta poked fun at the media.

"This guy is really worried about my hip right here," Pitta said with a laugh.

"Honestly, there's nothing I do on the field that I worry about or even think about it, or it gives me a different feeling bending this way or twisting that way."

While fans and media members still cringe every time the veteran makes a violent cut, falls to the turf or gets bumped just a bit too hard by one of his teammates, Pitta is done thinking about the "what ifs?" He's had plenty of time to roll all the scenarios around his head.

After being away from football for nearly two years following his second dislocation and fracture, Pitta still feels good, just as he did at the start of organized team activities (OTAs), end of OTAs, end of minicamp and start of training camp.

Tomorrow, the Ravens will strap on the pads for the first time, and Pitta will get his next test with more contact. But he isn't worried about that either.

"You guys keep wanting to point to some hurdle that I'm looking for," Pitta said. "I've practiced three straight days in OTAs. I practiced in minicamp. This is no different.

"In my opinion, I've cleared every hurdle to this point that I need to. I'm just focused on football. As much as you guys ask about my hip, I'm not thinking about my hip until I stand up to the podium."

Head Coach John Harbaugh is impressed with what he's seen so far from Pitta, but did allude to the upcoming padded practices as the "next step." If Pitta can get through that without any extra soreness in his hip, it's a very good sign.

Pitta, however, said it's not like the Ravens have been going half speed so far.

"There will be a little bit more contact at the point of attack – the line of scrimmage," Pitta said. "Apart from that, it's not going to be much different. I don't anticipate tomorrow being a big hurdle for me to clear. It's just another practice for me."

Hitting may not even matter that much. Pitta's second hip dislocation and fracture came without any contact. It was just an awkward step that sent him crumbling to the ground on Sept. 21, 2014 in Cleveland.

He's come a long, long way since then. His patience has been tested. Pitta could have come back last year after practicing for three weeks, but opted to play it safe when he "didn't feel quite right." He felt post-practice soreness in the hip area at the time.

"We knew we needed to give it more time," Pitta said. "I think we played it smart last year and did what we needed to do. I'm in a good position now and feel good. … Now I don't have any of those issues."

Finally, the questions Friday's press conference steered to the football field, where Pitta's in the midst of a deep and talented tight end competition* *also featuring veteran free-agent addition Benjamin Watson, last year's starter Crockett Gillmore and sophomore second-round pick Maxx Williams.

Not too long ago, it seemed that Pitta may never play* *football again. Then it looked like he would still have an uphill climb to make the roster. It's still early, but after two days of training camp, Pitta has been the most impressive tight end on the field so far.

The connection between Pitta and quarterback Joe Flacco looks like it was never interrupted.

On Day 1, Flacco thread a 20-yard pass over the middle to Pitta, perfectly squeezed into traffic. On Day 2, in a third-down situation, Flacco threw a quick pass that Pitta stretched to haul in with safety Eric Weddle in his rear pocket. Pitta rolled to the turf and got back up without a hitch.

"It doesn't feel any different than it did a couple of years ago when we were out there throwing the ball around," Pitta said. "I don't think those kinds of things go away. He knows what I'm thinking. He knows where I'm going to be on certain routes and vice versa."

The coaches are taking notice.

"He looks like a big player," Harbaugh said of Pitta. "It's hard to just say apples-to-apples to three years ago, but he looks like a really good football player out there right now."

Pitta looked to be on the verge of a career breakout before suffering his first injury in the 2013 training camp. He caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, and was instrumental in the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII run.

That's why the Ravens signed him to a five-year, $32 million deal in 2014 – even after the first hip injury. It's a deal that has since been restructured, but shows just how valuable Pitta was in the Ravens' eyes.

Now Pitta feels like he will return to being that same player.

"I don't feel like I've lost a step," he said. "I don't feel like I'm any slower or do anything different than I did a couple of years ago, in my opinion. That's my goal. I want to be the lead guy. … That's my mentality, and as long as I can continue playing the way I have, I feel confident in that."

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