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John Harbaugh excited to see how Ravens' competition at tight end plays out

PHOENIX — The Ravens still could make a decision on 36-year-old tight end Benjamin Watson, who is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and carries a $4 million salary cap number for 2017. But as things stand, Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn't see an immediate need to lessen the team's logjam at the position.

"Two things on that: We plan to use tight ends because obviously we have tight ends and they're all versatile players," Harbaugh said Tuesday during the AFC coaches breakfast during the league meetings. "Secondly, competition is going to shake it out. The guys who play the best are the guys who are going to play the most. I can't wait to see how it shakes out."

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The Ravens have six tight ends on their roster and all but Watson, who tore his Achilles late last August in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions, have played a significant role for the team at some point over the past two seasons. And the Ravens gave Watson a two-year, $7 million last March, believing that his receiving and blocking ability would greatly benefit the offense.

However, there are questions about all six players. With Watson, it's age and injury. Harbaugh did say Tuesday that Watson is ahead of schedule and has been rehabbing regularly at the Under Armour Performance Center.

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Dennis Pitta, who took a pay cut to stay with the Ravens after leading the team and all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions last year, is always going to face injury concerns because of his twice fractured and dislocated right hip. He's also not known for his speed or blocking ability.

After a breakout first half of the 2015 season, Crockett Gillmore played just seven games last year and he's dealt with myriad injuries. Maxx Williams, a second-round pick in 2015, has been a significant disappointment and he too is trying to come back from knee surgery after getting through just four games last year.

Third-year tight end Nick Boyle, the best blocker of the bunch, has already been suspended twice by the league for violating its policy on performance-enhancing drugs and he's one more ban away from his career potentially being over. Converted wide receiver Darren Waller also has one suspension on his resume and he was mistake prone last year, but is more athletic and probably has more upside than any of the team's other five tight ends.

Harbaugh said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could use the tight ends in a variety of ways, even mentioning that Boyle and Williams, along with tailback Lorenzo Taliaferro, could take on some fullback responsibilities with Kyle Juszczyk having left in free agency.

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"Nick and Maxx can lead block for sure," Harbaugh said. "Put Crockett on the line. Dennis is kind of a U-back, H-back kind of guy as a chain mover. Ben has really been a consummate tight end. He's kind of done a little bit of everything, probably not as much lead blocking but more on-the-line stuff. Did I hit everybody? Darren Waller. He's your down-field threat and your big body. Immense amount of talent.

"I just feel really good about all those guys. It's going to be great for our fans to watch the tight end battle in the offseason and in training camp. It's going to be really worth watching."

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