An emotional return
Tight end Dennis Pitta is excited to play after battling serious injuries
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta stood in front of his locker about 30 minutes after Friday’s practice and stuffed his helmet, cleats and pads into his equipment bag. It’s a simple routine done by players after the final full practice before the game. Yet for Pitta, it carried much significance.
When the Ravens play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Pitta will play in his first game since he fractured and dislocated his right hip for the second time Sept. 21, 2014, against the Cleveland Browns.
“There was definitely a point in all of this that I had to accept the fact that I probably wouldn’t run out of that tunnel ever again,” Pitta said. “Being able to do that this Sunday will be emotional, but very exciting for me.”
There’s been a lot made this week about quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs playing in their first regular-season games since suffering season-ending injuries last year. Pitta’s return, though, was considered far more unlikely than the others. The tight end has played just seven games over the past three seasons.
“He’s put in a lot of work,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s been a long road for him. It’s going to be great to see him coming out of the tunnel with the smoke going. I’m sure it’ll be a big moment for him, too. I look forward to seeing him play. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Pitta, 31, spent the entire 2015 season on the physically-unable-toperform list before returning to action this summer. A fractured finger early in training camp, the result of a post-play skirmish with rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa, stalled his comeback temporarily and forced him to miss the entire preseason. However, Pitta said his finger is fully healed and that he doesn’t need to wear any extra protection on it.
He doesn’t expect any limitations Sunday in what figures to be an emotional afternoon. Pitta acknowledged that his wife and family are nervous about his return to the field, but added that they also are excited that his hard work and persistence have been rewarded.
“I think the second time I dislocated my hip was one of those instances where I thought, ‘Man, I don’t think I’ll be back out there.’ For a long time after, I didn’t know how I would recover having done that twice,” Pitta said. “I didn’t know even if I would get to the point where I felt good enough to play again. It took a long time. Fortunately now, I’m in that position.”
Three Ravens ruled out
There were no surprises on the official injury report as running back Kenneth Dixon (knee), outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle) were ruled out for Sunday’s game. None of the three practiced this week.
With no “probable” designation per the league’s new injury report rules, the Ravens listed tight ends Pitta (finger) and Maxx Williams (knee), guard John Urschel (shoulder) and cornerback Shareece Wright (foot) as questionable. However, all four are expected to play.
All-rookie left side
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no NFL team has started two rookies on the left side of the offensive line since 1995. The Ravens figure to change that with first-round pick Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and fourth-round selection Alex Lewis looking like the starter at left guard over Urschel.
It sounds like a dicey proposition, given Bills coach Rex Ryan’s aggressive and creative mentality when it comes to blitzing, but Lewis said he and Stanley are prepared for the challenge.
“Yeah, we’re young, and yeah, there’s going to be some growing pains along with it, but we’re both quick learners, we both love the game, we both study really well,” said Lewis, who started at left guard in the team’s final three preseason games. “All those little aspects are going to come together to show on the game on Sunday, and hopefully we can perform well.”
Stanley, who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the top rookie tackle through three preseason games, said he wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Ryan challenged him and Lewis with blitzes.
Wary of Watkins
One factor in Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s emergence last season was the presence of wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The wideout set franchise records for catches and receiving yards in his first two seasons with 125 receptions for 2,029 yards.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees compared Watkins — who caught 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015 — to former Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots great Randy Moss in that they use their size and speed to gain separation from defenders.
“Randy was always faster than what he looked like,” Pees said. “He looked like he was loping, but he was running. What [Watkins] has is an innate ability to go get the ball. You just watch film, and there are just so many times he’s covered, and Tyrod puts it up, and [he] comes up with it. That was Randy Moss. He just had a way of never showing his hands running down the field. All of a sudden, a [defensive back] is trying to play the hands, he doesn’t show them, then all of a sudden he shows them and they’re on the ball.”
With Sunday being the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the Ravens will honor 69 individuals from Maryland who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. The Ravens will distribute ribbons to all fans in attendance and the players will wear special tribute decals on their helmets. The pregame events will include a video message from President Barack Obama on the RavensVision boards, 70 members of the military unfurling a flag that will span much of the playing field, and a Maryland National Guard flyover. … The NFL said Friday that Bills reserve tackle Seantrel Henderson will be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse. Henderson’s suspension will start Sunday.
Dennis Pitta is glad to be playing Sunday. He wondered if he’d ever play again after he fractured and dislocated his right hip twice.