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Injury-riddled Ravens tight end group being counted on to replace Dennis Pitta

Ravens tight end Nick Boyle was as stunned as everyone else when starter Dennis Pitta reached to make a catch during an organized team activity a week ago and dislocated his right hip for the third time in four years.

Just as quickly, however, Boyle, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, knows that the team is counting on him and his teammates at the tight end position to fill the void and add to a potentially successful run in 2017.

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"That's not the way I want it to happen," he said Thursday. "He's a really good friend of mine, and like I said, I feel really bad for him. Naturally, it's out of your control, but it will give you more opportunities on the field."

On Wednesday, the Ravens announced that they had released Pitta with an injury waiver, likely ending his playing career in Baltimore and possibly elsewhere in the NFL. Coach John Harbaugh said he has yet to talk with Pitta, who is still in the hospital. But Harbaugh said he is eager to talk to the 31-year-old, who had been with the franchise since 2010 when he was a fourth-round pick in that year's draft.

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"It's going to be a tough conversation," Harbaugh said. "We're friends. That's how I see it. I had a text conversation with his awesome wife [Mataya], and they're in a good place."

The departure of Pitta – who led the offense last season in catches with 86, ranked third in receiving yards with 729 and tied for fourth with two touchdowns – leaves the unit with an abundance of tight ends who combined for 24 receptions for 200 yards and three scores.

But three contributors have yet to participate in offseason workouts. Benjamin Watson has been out since tearing his right Achilles tendon in the team's third preseason game against the Detroit Lions last year, Maxx Williams has not played since landing on injured reserve on Oct. 7 because of cartilage damage in his knee and Darren Waller is dealing with an undisclosed injury. On Thursday, Crockett Gillmore left practice early and appeared to gesture to his hamstrings, which have sidelined him for games in the past.

Still, Harbaugh said the group can compensate for the loss of Pitta.

"Absolutely," he said. "You want to have as many good players as you can, and that's why you don't want to lose anybody. But by the same token, we're deep there. Maxx has got to get back, Ben has to get back, the other two guys have to keep getting better, but we have four really good players there, and we'll just work from there."

Boyle agreed, adding, "I think it's a great group of guys. It's really a tight-knit group. Everyone gets along really well in the room, and everyone's a really good player and brings a little bit of a different style to the table. What's really good is that we can learn from each other. I can take someone's route-running and combine it with whoever's pass-blocking and just learn from each other. Everyone has a great relationship in the room, and I'm looking forward to going into camp with them."

Among a group that includes rookie Barrett Burns and second-year player Ryan Malleck, Boyle is the only healthy tight end with experience for the Ravens. But the Delaware product said he welcomes the additional workload.

"There were a lot of reps, especially the last two days, between Crock and I," Boyle said. "What we're looking to do is get the most out of all the reps that we're taking. Yeah, you're going to get tired, but you get a lot of opportunities, and you want to make the most of your opportunities to show what you can do on the field. So you get tired, but it's a trade-off to show what you can do on the field for the coaches."

Twitter: @edwardleesun

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