Rookie tight end Ed Dickson stepping into important role

December 08, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The daunting task of replacing the Ravens' all-time leader in catches and receiving touchdowns will fall on a rookie with just eight catches this season.

Whether it's youthful confidence or reckless abandon, Ed Dickson said he is prepared for the challenge.

"I thrive in these moments," the 23-year-old tight end said Wednesday. "I want the ball. I want that big block, I want that big catch. I'm getting an opportunity and when opportunity knocks, you've got to take advantage. This is my opportunity, this is our team's opportunity to do something great and still do [well] in the season. Even though the last game was tough, we can bounce back and win a big game on Monday night, and I'm going to be a big part of this game."

Dickson's first career start depends on the availability of Todd Heap, who has caught 464 passes and 41 touchdowns in 10 seasons. Heap pulled his right hamstring on the first play of the team's 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night.

Although Heap declined to rule himself out for Monday night's contest against the Houston Texans, he conceded that he is "day to day," and Dickson and fellow rookie Dennis Pitta shared snaps with the first offense during Wednesday morning's practice.

If the hamstring continues to bother Heap, he said he has no qualms about Dickson and Pitta taking over at tight end.

"I'm not worried about these young guys," Heap said. "Obviously, they don't have a lot of experience. That only comes with playing. So this is going to be part of those growing pains for them. They're going to have to get in there and learn and see for themselves how things work. This is going to be a step in that direction for them."

If Sunday night's loss to the Steelers is any indication, Dickson will likely get a majority of the snaps at tight end. He caught three passes for 21 yards against Pittsburgh — two of which gained first downs — and was the target of Joe Flacco's errant pass on fourth down-and-2 on the offense's final play. (Pitta was targeted just once and played more of a blocking role because two-time fullback Le'Ron McClain had been deactivated due to a sprained left ankle.)

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Dickson left Oregon ranked first among tight ends in catches (124) and receiving yards (1,557), and his speed and hands convinced the Ravens to use their third-round pick on him.

Shortly after joining the Ravens, Dickson was treated to a five-hour study session with tight ends coach Wade Harman, who outlined a plan for Dickson and Pitta, the team's fourth-round selection.

"Wade stressed to me, 'We don't look at you as a rookie. We look at you as a player and kind of a vet. We need you to get out there and make plays because we've seen what you can do.' Dennis, too," Dickson recalled. "… It's a big opportunity this week for the young guys like me and Dennis Pitta. Just to prove that we can make plays and fill in this spot."

Harmon said Dickson's development is ongoing. Used primarily as a receiver too swift for linebackers and too strong for safeties, Dickson is getting acclimated to the speed and strength of the NFL.

One area that he continues to work on is his blocking, a facet he wasn't asked to do much of with the Ducks. Squaring off against the Steelers' outside linebacking duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley was tough, but Harmon said Dickson is improving.

"We've got a lot of stuff in our system, and he's picked it up real well," Harmon said. "With the game last week when Todd went down on the first play, there was no hesitation about throwing him out there and letting him go because he's been doing it since OTAs [organized team activities], all the practices, training camp, games. He's been mixed in there. So I knew the game wouldn't be too big for him, and he's coming along real well."

Dickson's arrival led some to anoint him as Heap's successor. That might seem like a lot of pressure, but that's not the way Dickson interprets it.

"I came in like I was ready to play," he said. "I'm a competitor, and even though Todd is a great tight end and a Hall of Fame tight end in my eyes, I'm going to continue to grow and get better and push him for that starting job. I'm not just going to lay down and say, 'OK, I'm second team.'"

Getting to that stage will require Dickson to develop the sense of comfort that Flacco has in Heap. As one of Flacco's primary targets on intermediate and underneath routes, Heap has hauled in 37 passes, 29 of which have resulted in first downs this season, and he is tied for ninth among AFC tight ends with nine catches on third down.

Dickson said he spent an additional 15 minutes with Flacco on Wednesday trying to improve his chemistry with Flacco.

"It's growing, and it's going to continue to grow," Dickson said of his connection with Flacco. "He's young, and I'm young, and we're going to be here for a long time."

Dickson is eager to make an impact, which could occur as early as Monday night in his first career start against the Texans.

"I wouldn't say I'll be nervous. I'm just anxious to get out there," he said. "This week, preparation's going to be big and then I'm going to get out there and play and do the things that I do. The beauty of this game is, if you do your job as an individual, great things will happen."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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