For every sports team, there is usually that one player that will perform at a consistent and high level every chance given, no matter the situation or condition of that team.
For the Baltimore Ravens offense, that player was tight end Dennis Pitta. But he was released on Wednesday after re injuring his hip for a third time in four years. Pitta’s career is on the fence like never before and his future is uncertain, but how exactly did he get to this position?
Early football career
Dennis Pitta, a tri-athlete in high school, received 3 varsity letters for Basketball, Football and Track. But his primary focus was football. Pitta played both Wide Receiver and Cornerback and excelled in the receiver position as his large size mixed with his exceptional speed for his size made a tough matchup for defensive backs to cover. In his senior year he recorded 64 receptions for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns earning him recognition as a first team all-county, all-league and all-area player.
Although many teams like Oklahoma State, Navy, Oregon and Utah showed interest in Pitta he failed to receive a single Division I scholarship.
Pitta decided to attend Brigham Young University(BYU) where he later walked on as a Wide Receiver but later moved to tight end by head coach Gary Crowton, earning him a full athletic scholarship. He had a breakout year in 2008 with 83 receptions, 1,083 yards and 6 touchdowns. That season for Pitta featured a game winning touchdown vs. Colorado State which led him to being named tight end of the week and MWC co-offensive player of the week. He finished the season as the second- leading receiver and was awarding a Lombardi award(not trophy, at least not yet.) According to the NFL Draft Scout, Pitta ranked 6th out of 92 tight ends for the 2010 draft. He currently holds the record for most career receptions at BYU, 1st in season and career receiving yards among tight ends.
Safe to say his perseverance and work ethic led him to success at that young age, from walking onto the team to leaving with the most career receptions in Cougars history.
“Dennis Pitta there’s a line right here. Is it Pitta or Peeta?” Head Coach John Harbaugh joked with Pitta during OTAs in 2010.
Pitta has played his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens being drafted in the 4th round with the 114th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Pitta had a quiet rookie season but improved in the next couple of seasons. In 2011 Pitta racked up 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns. It was this season that he and Flacco created the dynamic duo on and off the field. On the field, Pitta helped Flacco expand the field on many possessions specifically on third downs. Over 72% of his catches were caught for first downs. Flacco grew more and more comfortable with him as he is a reliable receiver catching over 71% of balls thrown to him.
There’s not much that usually blossoms in the fall but that’s exactly what happened as 2012 was the year which the Pitta and Flacco duo took full blossom. First game of the regular season, Flacco looked for Pitta 10 times and connected 5 times for 73 yards along with the first touchdown of his career high 7 touchdown season. When Pitta has great games like this it keeps his quarterback confident and productive. He completed 21 out of 29 passes for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had 8 games with 5 or more receptions as well as 8 games with over 40 yards receiving. Pitta finished the season with 61 receptions for 669 yards and 7 touchdowns, tying Todd Heap most touchdowns by a tight end in a single season in Ravens history. He finished the playoffs with 14 catches 163 yards and 3 touchdowns. The icing on his amazing season was his diving touchdown during the 34-31 Super Bowl victory.
His success from the 2012-2013 season earned him a spot on the NFL’s annual top 100 players as well as a new contract in 2014 .
This past year he was the most consistent player on offense leading the team and setting career high with 86 receptions for 729 yards.
“I knew he would be productive… I think he’s going to get more and more comfortable as the year goes on. We just have to keep him healthy,” Joe Flacco said after Pitta’s 9 reception and 102 yard game in week 2.
Unfortunately, that was the hardest part for the Ravens.
Pitta’s career at BYU blossomed because of an injury to starting receiver Daniel Coats. Who knew that what turned out to be his gateway into the pro football world would also be the exit.
“He’s got a great opportunity in Baltimore and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for him,” Patriots Wide Receiver when asked about Pitta.
But that opportunity hit a complete stop on July 27, 2013, when Dennis Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip during training camp. The immediate verdict was that he would miss the entire 2013 season.
In just the 3rd practice of the season for the team, Pitta made leap for a pass in the endzone but collided with safety James Ihedigbo leading to the fracture and dislocation.
The injury to Pitta was a big blow to the Ravens offense as they had already lost receiver Anquan Boldin in the offseason.
The Ravens were expecting a lot out of Pitta for the 2013 season after his breakout year in 2012. But without their star tight end the Ravens found no success on offense. They finished 8-8 and failed to make an appearance in the playoffs.
Without Pitta, Flacco didn’t look the same in the 2013 season. He threw for 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He was sacked 48 times in 2013, more than any other year with Pitta.
Pitta did return in the 2013-14 season in week 14 in the most Pitta way possible, bailing out Flacco on third downs and catching 6 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
The 2014 season was supposed to be Pitta’s comeback year, especially going into his new 5 year $32 million contract. But instead in a week 3 matchup against the Cleveland Browns Pitta dislocated his hip once again after falling with no contact after a made catch. Pitta then received another surgery which again ended his season early.
Almost a year later after a physical with his doctor, he was advised that it wasn’t safe for him to continue his career. And some thought that was how the Dennis Pitta football story would end.
“I think no player wants to play their last play getting carted off the field. I’ll continue to work, and hopefully that won’t be the end of the story.” Pitta said when questioned about his future.
And through his perseverance he made sure that it wasn’t the end of his story, instead it was the start of another rocky chapter.
Pitta made his return to the NFL in 2016 having arguably his best season for the Ravens. Flacco looked much better with Pitta lined up with him, as both their play elevated through their chemistry together.
Flacco threw a career high 4,317 yards along with another career high in his completion percentage at 64.9%. Pitta was Flacco’s favorite target, targeting him more than any other receiver, 121 times with 86 completions for 729 yards(career high.) His 86 receptions led all tight ends last season. He had more receptions last season than players like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins.
This shows you how much of a reliable receiver he was for Flacco and how well they complement each other. It shows what he brings to the team and how much value he has to the team when he’s healthy.
And again that proved to be the toughest challenge for the Ravens, as just over a week ago, Pitta dislocated his hip for a third time after falling without contact during OTAs and remains hospitalized today. The seriousness hasn’t been fully disclosed yet but it looks like it can be a career-ending injury for Pitta. Leading the Ravens to making a business decision of releasing him clearing up $2 million in cap space.
What Pitta meant to the Ravens organization
Pitta was the glue to this Baltimore Ravens offense, he was a huge factor in the scheme and no player had greater chemistry with Flacco than Pitta, and it doesn’t take a football expert to know that chemistry with a quarterback leads to success.
Flacco was most comfortable throwing to Pitta. No matter Flacco or the offense needed, he was always there.
But don’t want to take my word, hear it from his own teammates.
“THE WHITE TIGHT END BABY! HE”S ALWAYS THERE WHEN YOU NEED HIM!” Dennis Pitta’s biggest fan Terrell Suggs screamed to the Camera after Pitta got caught the only touchdown of the game, “American Express. He’s everywhere you want him to be, don’t leave home without him.”
“He seems to be at the right place at the right time, you know Joe does have a knack for finding Pitta in those tight spots.” Kicker Justin Tucker said.
Pitta wasn’t only an asset for the Ravens in the air but also on the ground with his exceptional run blocking.
“It’s a hell of a block. Wow!” Coach Harbaugh said while mic’d up during training camp.
Flacco’s success and confidence was always on the positive side when Pitta was out there with him. If Under pressure avoiding a sack, who does he look for? Pitta. In the pocket with no options on the outside, who does he look for? Pitta. A safety sneaking up to blitz on the outside, who has his back?
“Joe and Dennis, it’s known that they’re pretty good friends and being able to have that on field connection as well, it’s a pretty cool duo,” Justin Tucker said.
What’s unfortunate is that we have seen the last of that duo.
Pitta’s football story is very inspirational but also very disappointing.
Inspirational because of many different aspects of his career. From walking on to BYU’s football team and leaving as the all time leader in receptions to having doctors tell him that he’d never play football again to proving them wrong by having one of the best seasons by a tight end.
Disappointing because of the obvious reason that he may never play another game. That he may be ending his career the way he said he didn’t want to.
His time on the field with the Ravens may be done but it doesn’t cut short of his talent, work ethic and ability. Whether you view his football story as inspirational or disappointing, what’s for certain is that he had a lasting impact on the Ravens community and will be loved by the city of Baltimore and a fan favorite for years to come.