Dennis Pitta has made significant progress in his second comeback from a fractured and dislocated right hip, but it's unclear whether the Ravens tight end will play again.
Pitta is likely to begin training camp and the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, according to NFL sources. If Pitta began the season on the reserve list, he would be required to miss at least the first six games of the season.
Pitta hasn't been medically cleared to practice since his second serious hip injury in as many years. He has rehabilitated the hip to the point where he's able to do some route running and individual drills, but wasn't allowed to fully participate during the Ravens' offseason practices.
Dr. Derek Ochiai, an orthopedic surgeon and hip specialist who practices in Arlington, Va., said if Pitta were to suffer a similar injury again, "his football career would probably come to an end."
"Unfortunately, there's a reasonable chance it could happen again to Dennis with another fracture-dislocation of the hip," said Ochiai, who doesn't treat Pitta. "It's not a given, but it's definitely possible. It's also possible it's a lightning-struck-twice kind of thing and it doesn't happen again. That's the best-case scenario. Once you have recurrences of an injury, statistically, it's more likely you will continue to have issues going forward.
"It's football, you're not playing chess. There's a lot of twisting and cutting regardless of actually getting tackled that can put a lot of stress on your hip joint. Unfortunately, Dennis Pitta's hip joint isn't normal. It can't be normal after a fracture-dislocation, but it can be repaired."
Signed to a five-year, $32 million contract in February 2014 that included $16 million guaranteed, Pitta is guaranteed $4 million this year regardless of whether he's able to play.
Pitta was hurt last September against the Cleveland Browns when he caught a pass, planted his leg and re-injured his hip without being hit. He underwent surgery for the second time last fall and was placed on injured reserve.
"Like Peyton Manning coming back from neck surgery, there's a risk-benefit analysis every player has to go over with the doctors," Ochiai said. "A hip injury isn't going to paralyze you; he just has to weigh the downside and risk. ... I wish him the best."
Pitta first injured his hip when he landed awkwardly after jostling for a pass in the end zone with strong safety James Ihedigbo during training camp in 2013.
"A couple of things are going to have to happen for him to play ultimately," head coach John Harbaugh said during minicamp in June. "No. 1, he has to be cleared by the doctors. And, No. 2, he has to decide if he wants to play because obviously there will be some risk involved. He hasn't been cleared by the doctors.
"As you've seen before, he's been doing the individual part of practice. Minicamp, unless you're cleared, you can't come out to practice. I don't know if that's a rule or our policy, but that's the way it goes. Until he gets cleared by the docs, he won't be able to practice and we'll just have to see where that goes from here."
The Ravens used the NFL draft to prepare for Pitta's potential absence and tight end Owen Daniels leaving in free agency to join former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak with the Denver Broncos on a three-year, $12.5 million contract.
They drafted Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams in the second round and he's expected to be an immediate contributor, working in tandem with returning tight end and projected starter Crockett Gillmore. They also picked Delaware tight end Nick Boyle in the fifth round to further bolster the position.
Gillmore has outstanding size and is a strong blocker at 6 feet 6, 275 pounds. He caught 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown as a rookie last season after being drafted in the third round. Gillmore also caught a touchdown in the Ravens' AFC wild-card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.