Ed Dickson noticed something a little different with quarterback Joe Flacco Wednesday.
The Ravens quarterback was a happy guy knowing that one of his favorite targets and best friends on the team, Dennis Pitta, was returning to practice Wednesday.
"I know Joe has had a smile on his face all day," Dickson said before the team took the field for Pitta's first practice since July 27.
His return to the practice field after suffering a fractured hip in training camp was met with tempered excitement from players in the locker room.
The fourth-year tight end is one of the Ravens' best offensive players and clutch performers, but his teammates did not want to set unrealistic expectations as Pitta still has to get back into the rhythm of playing football before he is ready for game action.
"We'll see what he can do today," Flacco said. "I don't know exactly the extent of what he's going to do, but it's always good to see a teammate back."
"We're just going to see how he does, just like when I first got back out there [after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon]," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs added. "But it's always good to have one of the guys you love and respect back on the practice field. We're just going to have to wait and see."
Teammates spoke about the excitement in Pitta's return after his long road to recovery.
When Pitta first got hurt, the doctors told him that his season was likely over and that the injury could be career-threatening. The injury is considered rare on the football field, and his teammates were just glad to see him in a position to take the field again given the severity.
"He's been working hard, so just the fact that he's even going to be out here for practice, whether he returns this season or not, I think that's amazing in itself," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "We've been seeing him jogging around and stuff, and that's been nice to see – not only for him possibly returning, but just for his health in general. You want to see somebody up, healthy and running around."
Since Pitta went down, the Ravens offense has not been the same. The unit currently ranks 30th in the NFL in total offense (308.5 yards per game), and Flacco has thrown a career-high 13 interceptions.
The Ravens have turned to Dickson and veteran Dallas Clark to take over at tight end, and Clark leads the duo in the passing game with 27 receptions passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Dickson has 12 catches for 140 yards.
The absence of Pitta is not the only issue the offense has had to overcome, but Flacco acknowledged that losing the sure-handed target has taken its toll.
"It's nothing against the receivers, tight ends or anybody, I think anytime you lose a good player that's been a big part of what we've done around here, you miss something," Flacco said.
Pitta has been able to run for the last few weeks, but Flacco said he has not spent any extra time throwing with him before or after practice.
"I've been afraid of whether that's even legal or not," Flacco said. "I have no idea what the rules are with guys on the roster, so I have not thrown to him. He has been throwing with somebody here, and they've been talking about their completion percentage. I don't think it's very good though."
Pitta was non-committal about an exact timetable for his return to the field when he talked with the media, and said that he is going to see how his hip responds over the next couple days and weeks of practice.
Whenever he does get back on the field, the Ravens anticipate one of their most reliable playmakers returning to form.
"With the chemistry he has with Joe, he is a dynamic player and you have to account for him at all times," Dickson said. "Getting him back on the field gives up more depth and it's another pass catcher out there for Joe."