Progress has been hard to measure for Dennis Pitta and Breshad Perriman in the three practices the Ravens have held this week. Even coach John Harbaugh said that the OTA sessions are more “touch football” than what might happen in training camp this summer or during the 2016 season.
Yet for the veteran tight end trying to come back a second time from what appeared to be a career-ending hip fracture, and for the second-year wide receiver who missed his entire rookie year with a mysteriously nagging knee injury, even a two-hour simulation beats rehab or, in Pitta’s case, premature retirement.
Both players showed flashes Thursday on the practice field in Owings Mills of what they hope to display in the coming months.
Pitta demonstrated his ability to catch balls in tight spaces while becoming one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets in 2011and 2012. Perrriman’s downfield speed, which led to the Ravens drafting him in the first round out of Central Florida a year ago, was desperately missed last season, Both players put those talents on display.
“To be honest, I feel really good physically out there,” Pitta said. “I haven’t played football for awhile, so there are things that I’m getting back used to. But overall I can’t complain. I feel like I’m running like I want to, and I used to, so that’s very encouraging.”
Pitta acknowledged that this comeback, after sitting out all of last season and all but three games in 2014, feels different than when he tried to return after the first hip fracture in the fourth game of the 2013 season. It came without contact, after making a catch against the Cincinnati Bengals and turning upfield.
“I feel good, I don’t have any lingering issues, nothing that I’m worried about,” said Pitta, who will turn 31 on June 29. “I’m encouraged by how I feel and how I’m moving and excited to hopefully get back to playing to the level that I was.”
Said Harbaugh: “He looks like Dennis Pitta to me. If you’re asking for a comparison to what he was when when he was playing to what he was now, he’s removed from football for a couple of years and we’re in – this is nothing. As far as the stability of the hip, how he feels about it, running around, making catches, looking like a football player, it’s all good.”
While the Ravens are well aware of what Pitta can do when healthy – he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season in 2012, then had 14 more receptions and another three touchdowns in the team’s Super Bowl run – Perriman’s potential is more of a question mark.
Perriman’s sprained knee on the first day of training camp last summer was initially not thought to be serious. What began as a “day to day” proposition went on for months. After returning to practice in preparation of a Week 3 game against the Bengals, Perriman reinjured the knee warming up for the game.
His rookie season ended when the team placed him on injured reserve.
Asked when he finally thought he was fully healed, Perriman said, “A couple of months ago. I was still being cautious about it. I just thought about going out and running full speed and it felt right so from then on, I just kept going…I went through a lot last year. It made me a better player and a better person.”
Perriman said his first year in Baltimore “was a big learning curve for me.”
“Not being able to play that was a hard thing,” he continued. “Basically I had to stay in the playbook so I won’t get behind. Just seeing the game and the speed of the game, I learned a lot.”
Harbaugh seemed encouraged by what he has seen from Perriman.
“Breshad’s doing well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s moving well, he’s doing a good job, he’s got a lot to learn, he’s still a young player, all the little nuances. There are so many things that are part of being a really good football player in this league that they’ve got to understand. That’s what he’s in the process of doing. He’s got talent. He’s working. He’s healthy. Those are all pluses.”
Pitta, who had to take a significant pay cut in order to make another comeback attempt, said that he hasn’t lowered his expectations.
Pitta’s future is certainly still fragile, given what the fact that he has played only seven games since the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Considering his close relationship on and off the field with Joe Flacco, Pitta saw some irony in that he was on the field and Flacco was on the sidelines this week.
“We kind of switched roles a little bit,” Pitta said of Flacco, still recovering after season-ending knee surgery. “Joe’s doing well, and this is all new for him as well. He’s leaned on me a few times about the whole rehab process because I’ve got a little bit of experience.”