As his newest tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe, ran extra routes on an adjacent field, Ravens coach John Harbaugh stepped behind a microphone and confirmed that the team’s worst fears were true on tight end Dennis Pitta.
“Dennis is out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the type of thing that he’s not going to be able to come back from this year. There’s enough damage in there to preclude that.”
Pitta, the Ravens’ fourth-year tight end who emerged last season as one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, was “resting comfortably” at a local hospital Sunday after having surgery Saturday to repair a dislocated hip. The 28-year-old sustained the injury while going up to make a catch in the back of the end zone on Flacco’s first throw of an 11-on-11 red zone drill at Saturday’s practice.
Pitta had his hip popped back into place and a small bone fragment removed from the area. Harbaugh said team doctors were still in the process of getting a magnetic resonance imaging test back, but they are optimistic about the tight end’s long-term recovery.
“We know it’s a dislocated hip. That’s about all we know right now. We don’t know the extent of any other damage,” said Harbaugh, who indicated that the Ravens likely won’t use the injured reserve with a designation to return tag on Pitta. “It would be really, really rare if it was something that he couldn’t be back from next year. We can’t give you a final determination because we are waiting on the MRI, but there’s been no word of anything like that.”
With Pitta sidelined, the Ravens lose a player who caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last year and was expected to assume an even bigger role in the offense after veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, Ed Dickson will move atop the tight end depth chart while the Ravens improved their depth at the position by signing Shiancoe, a former Morgan State standout who has played parts of 10 NFL seasons and has 243 career catches for 2,677 yards and 27 touchdowns, to a one-year, $940,000 deal.
Shiancoe, 33, worked out with the Ravens last Friday and then watched practice with general manager Ozzie Newsome. After sustaining a significant hamstring injury, Shiancoe was limited to just four games with the New England Patriots last season and he was looking for an opportunity to contribute to a playoff-caliber team. The Ravens provided it and had an immediate need following Pitta’s injury.
“That’s unfortunate, but it’s almost just like the next guy has to step up and the team has to go on and still prepare,” said Shiancoe (pronounced vih-SAHNTH SHANK-oh), who lives in Prince George’s County. “They owe it to the fans; they owe it to themselves.”
Wearing a purple No.81 jersey, Shiancoe walked onto the practice field with about an hour left in the workout. He hugged Flacco and a couple of his new teammates and took a few repetitions during the team drills. He then stayed after practice and caught balls from Caleb Hanie while tight ends coach Wade Harman looked on.
“With a veteran quarterback and a veteran player that has been in the league for as long as we have, we definitely have to build some rapport and camaraderie,” said Shiancoe, who will compete for the backup tight end spot with veteran Billy Bajema, Alex Silvestro and undrafted rookie Matt Furstenburg (Maryland). “I think that starts today. I have good experience and I’m going to bring it here. I’m going to bring everything I’ve got. I’m going to do work as hard as I can. Nothing is given. You have to earn everything and I understand that. That’s what I’ve come in here to do. I have to come in here nice and humble.”
While joining the Ravens represents a career rebirth of sorts for Shiancoe, Dickson is hoping to take advantage of a bittersweet opportunity. Dickson and Pitta are close friends. They came into the league together as Dickson was taken by the Ravens in the third round of the 2010 draft while the Ravens selected Pitta one round later.
They were both heading into contract years, knowing that they would get opportunities to flourish with Flacco at the helm. Dickson admitted that he was emotional seeing Pitta get carted off the field with a towel over his face. Pitta later was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
“My first reaction is I was very sad, just to lose a teammate, a brother like that. Since Day One, we’ve been helping each other out and it hurt me to the heart,” Dickson said. “I sent him a text. I just told him, ‘We’re going to get by this. We can get by this together. It’s just a little bump in the road, and [we’ll] battle it through treatment and get over it.’”
Dickson entered last season as the Ravens’ starting tight end but he was limited to 21 catches for 225 yards and 13 games of an injury-plagued year. He talked Sunday about building better chemistry with Flacco, who is best friends with Pitta off the field.
“You hate to get an opportunity in this fashion, but you have to relish the opportunities because it doesn’t come by that often,” Dickson said. “The team needs me to step up. … And it’s not just me — it’s other guys on the team. It’s Ray Rice, it’s Joe Flacco, it’s everybody picking up for Dennis because he was a great receiver and I believe he’ll come back healthier than what he was.”