Ravens' tight ends off to good start

Posted Sept. 17, 2011 @ 9:57 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

Leading up to the regular season, the Ravens weren't shy about adding experienced players to bolster several positions. The addition of ex-Bills WR Lee Evans allowed the Ravens to keep younger wideouts Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss in reserve roles. Ex-Vikings OLT Bryant McKinnie's arrival let the Ravens slide Michael Oher to right tackle and nudged rookie OT Jah Reid out of the running to start on the right side. Also, the signing of ex-Cowboys C Andre Gurode gave the Ravens a more proven alternative to Bryan Mattison should starter Matt Birk's knee problems take him out of action.

One position where the Ravens pretty much held pat, however, was tight end. Although 30-year-old Kris Wilson, signed in August, gives Baltimore a veteran option off the bench, he's third on the depth chart behind second-year pros Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, whom the Ravens are counting on to produce after the release of stalwart Todd Heap in July.

Dickson and Pitta showed their promise in the season opener vs. Pittsburgh. Dickson caught five passes for 59 yards, including an 18-yard TD, while Pitta's catches went for 29 and 16 yards. Dickson and Pitta each caught every pass thrown to them.

"The game wasn't too big for them," Ravens TE coach Wade Harman said, noting the club's confidence in Dickson and Pitta to be key parts of the game plan.

Dickson, who appeared in 15 games as a rookie, has uncommon speed for his position and can challenge defenses whether lined up as a slot receiver, split back or traditional tight end. He has improved as a blocker — Harman pointed out that the first running play vs. Baltimore was to his side, and a look at the video shows Dickson getting a good block on Steelers SS Troy Polamalu — but Dickson's pass catching is his strength.

"He can get off the line of scrimmage in a hurry," Harman said.

Pitta had more catches in the opener than he did all of last season, when opportunities on offense were scarce playing behind Heap and Dickson, but he was very productive at BYU, hauling in 221 passes in four seasons, proof of his receiving ability.

"He sees coverages well. He knows when to sit, he knows when to run," Harman said, adding that Pitta was "very readable for the quarterback" and "smooth-running."

Harman has high expectations for Pitta and Dickson and believes "their biggest growth should be early in the season." More development from the duo would give opposing defenses, which had to notice the tight ends' contributions in Week One, even more to ponder.