After a breakout 2012 season, fourth-year Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is no longer flying under the radar.
Last season, Pitta lined up all over the field for the Ravens, often in the slot. At season’s end, he ranked 10th among tight ends with 61 receptions, 11th with 669 receiving yards and tied for sixth with seven touchdowns.
Defenses paid attention to him during the season. Opposing teams showed interest in signing him after it.
Ultimately, Pitta signed his restricted tender to remain with the Ravens in 2013. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
The team has publicly said that they would like to sign Pitta, who turns 28 in June, to a contract extension. And Pitta said Friday that he would like to stick around beyond this season.
“Yeah, certainly. I love it here in Baltimore and this is a great team, a tremendous organization and a great city,” Pitta said after running around in the hot sun for two hours at their latest organized team activity. “The fans here are incredible and passionate about football so I’d love to be able to stay here long term if that works out.”
Pitta said he isn’t sure when contract talks between the Ravens and his agent, Justin Schulman, would start getting hot and heavy, but he reiterated that he "would love to be able to stay a Raven.”
And the Ravens would love to keep Pitta in purple, as well.
He has become one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s closest friends and one of his favorite targets on the field.
With Anquan Boldin gone, Pitta, who added three touchdowns in the playoffs, figures to be the team’s biggest receiving threat in the red zone. He has soft hands and a wide wingspan, he knows where the holes are in zone coverage, and he continues to improve as a route runner.
Pitta noticed that he got more attention as a potential mismatch last season -- not just from opponents, but the media as well. As one point during the team’s run to the Super Bowl this winter, Pitta remarked to Flacco after one practice that he had to a bunch of interviews that day. “OK, so don’t be good then,” replied Flacco.
So Pitta understands why people like me request to talk to him.
“That means you’re doing something right,” Pitta said Friday.
Last season, Pitta spent a lot of time lined up in the slot, maybe even more than he did as an in-line tight end. Back in September, I broke down how he was used against the Philadelphia Eagles.
After offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron in December, the Ravens used Pitta and fellow fourth-year tight end Ed Dickson together even more in 12 personnel. Pitta wouldn’t go into detail about what his role may be in 2013 -- “I’d certainly accept whatever role was given and do it happily,” he said -- but Caldwell said Friday that we should see two-tight end sets fairly often.
“We’ll balance them up,” he said. “We used them a fair amount last year. I think you’ll see the same thing this year. But we do have a great blended mix of different personnel groupings and with those two guys, it really gives us some balance. Dennis is a very fine pass-route runner and he can catch the ball, blocks well at the line of scrimmage. Ed is also good at the line but both guys can stretch the field. Both guys can catch the ball and run. Obviously, we will utilize them in a number of ways.”
Pitta appears poised to improve on the numbers he put up in his breakout 2012 season, which could drive up his price if the Ravens don’t get that deal done before he hits free agency. Teams are certainly aware of what he is capable of now, and he knows opponents will do all they can to try to keep him from being a difference-maker.
“Anytime a defense has to account for you, that you make it difficult for them to play you 1-on-1, you’re doing your job,” Pitta said. “Hopefully I can continue to work and get better and be a mismatch.”