Remember when Jacoby Jones failing a conditioning test and Bryant McKinnie reporting overweight created headlines? The injury Saturday to tight end Dennis Pitta in the first padded practice of training camp served as a reality check for the Baltimore Ravens. Pitta suffered a dislocated hip and will require surgery that will force him to miss the entire 2013 season, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This creates a major hole in the defending Super Bowl champions' passing game.
The cliché is that the Ravens will turn to The Next Man Up. But not having Pitta will hurt more because he was The Next Man Up in many ways. After the Ravens traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin, many expected Pitta to step up and become the top target for Joe Flacco. It was reasonable to project Pitta as the team's leading receiver after he finished tied for second behind Boldin in receptions in the 2012 regular season and in the playoffs. Without Pitta and Boldin, the only player on the Ravens' roster who had more than 50 receptions last season was running back Ray Rice.
The Ravens will miss Pitta in the red zone. They will miss him on third downs. They will miss his reliable hands (he dropped just three passes last season). Pitta and Flacco are close friends (Pitta attended Flacco's wedding a couple of years ago) and their rapport often showed up on the field. Pitta scored seven touchdowns in the regular season -- tied for the most ever by a Ravens tight end -- and also scored a touchdown in three of four postseason games, including one in the Super Bowl.
On Saturday, coach John Harbaugh called it a "serious injury" and said Pitta will be out "for a while."
With Pitta sidelined, the Ravens will need increased production from Ed Dickson. Dickson had a disappointing 21 receptions last season, but in 2011 he had 54 catches and five touchdowns, so he has potential. And he can stretch the field more than Pitta. The problem is, the Ravens were already counting more on Dickson this year. After cutting fullback Vonta Leach (although there is still a chance that he returns), the Ravens were going to line up with two tight ends (Pitta and Dickson) a majority of the time. The Ravens could sign veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who watched the Ravens' practice Friday, but he didn't have a catch last season with New England.
The Ravens aren't the only ones hurt by Pitta's injury. Pitta could be losing some money because he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Ravens put a second-round tender ($2.023 million) on Pitta and were looking to extend his contract this year.
"Obviously, he [Pitta] has been a very, very productive guy for us," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "He’s made a lot of big plays around here. Somebody is going to have to step up, and we do have some capable guys all across the flanks. We do have some weapons, and we’re just going to have to have some guys make some plays for us.”