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'Big Smooth' provides added dimension to Ravens passing game

'Big Smooth' provides added dimension to Ravens passing game
Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is hit by Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler during the Ravens' 55-20 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Nov. 11, 2012. Pitta had a breakout season with 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - Jacoby Jones playfully refers to Baltimore Ravens teammate Dennis Pitta as "Big Smooth."

Why?

"That man gets open," Jones said of Pitta, the Ravens' third-year tight end. "He runs routes like a wide receiver."

But it's not just Jones.

Teammates often refer to Pitta as a wide receiver in a tight end's body.

He has the route-running ability of a wide receiver - as he showed when shaking free of New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory to haul in a 5-yard touchdown during last weekend's AFC championship game, helping the Ravens reach Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

He has the ball skills of a receiver - as he displayed when contorting his body to make a contested 27-yard grab during overtime of Baltimore's divisional round win over the Denver Broncos.

And he's just a more fluid all-around athlete than you would typically associate with the tight end position.

"I always say he's kind of like a receiver that plays tight end," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said of Pitta. "He's just so smooth. He runs great routes. He runs routes like a receiver. And he catches everything."

Not like it's all anything new for Pitta.

He was an all-league selection as a wide receiver his senior year at Moorpark High School (Ca.) in 2002. He's the all-time leader in career receptions at BYU. And now in his third year with Baltimore, he's provided an added dimension to the Ravens' passing game to go along with physical veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and the speedy Smith.

"He's a great player for us," Smith said of Pitta. "He handles the middle well, and he makes some big-time catches, some clutch catches. He's a playmaker. ... To have him as an outlet, especially in the middle, for [quarterback Joe Flacco] is a great fit."

Pitta had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season. The catches were fifth-most among AFC tight ends, the yardage was good for sixth-best and he tied for third-best among the conference's tight ends with the seven scoring catches.

The seven touchdown catches also tied a Ravens team-record for tight ends, and the catches and yards both represented the highest output for a Baltimore tight end since Todd Heap in 2006.

Pitta has added 10 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns during the playoffs.

"We do a little bit of everything with him because of the fact that he is so versatile," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said of Pitta earlier this month. "Often times, we can line him up, literally, anywhere we would like within our scheme - all the way outside flexed to see what kind of matchup we can get on the outside or with a reasonable flex or tight.

"He's a little bit of everywhere for us and plays a number of different positions for us. He does create some problems. You have to make a determination on how you are going to deal with him from a defensive standpoint."

Pitta was a fourth-round pick of Baltimore in the 2010 NFL draft. He played only sparingly as a rookie, but his role progressively increased throughout the course of last season.

He finished the 2011 season - including the playoffs - with 47 catches for 475 yards and four touchdowns.

This season, again including the playoffs, he's had nine games with five catches or more and eight with 50 yards or more.

"Each day, you just try and get a little bit better," Pitta said. "And that's just across the board in all different areas, and that's what I've tried to do this year."

He had five catches for 55 yards during the Ravens' AFC championship victory over the Patriots, including the five-yard touchdown catch early in the second half.

He had three catches for 55 yards against the Broncos a week earlier and two grabs for 27 yards and a touchdown during Baltimore's wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Against the Broncos in Week 15, Pitta had seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. All three totals established new single-game career-highs.

"He just continues to shine," fellow Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said of Pitta. "He waited for his time. And when he got his opportunity to be in there, he's been one of the best tight ends in the league. From the end of last year to this year, he's been one of the most productive tight ends in the league. ... He's had a lot of success, and he's been big for us."

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