May 13, 2010
By David Driver
For the Deseret News
Used with permission
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta, a fourth-round draft pick out of BYU last month, stood by his locker Friday afternoon following his first workout with the Baltimore Ravens.
He was sipping on a sports drink and chatting with former BYU quarterback John Beck, now a backup for the Ravens. "It is nice to have a guy around that you know," Pitta said of Beck, his former teammate with the Cougars. "John has been a big help for me."
But everything else is pretty new for Pitta, who arrived in Maryland last Wednesday. He took a physical and sat in on team meetings for two days before taking the field Friday morning.
He said he had never been to the Baltimore-Washington region and was asked if he had any relatives on the East Coast. "We are pretty much a West Coast family," said Pitta, who went to high school in California. When pressed, Pitta said he has relatives in Florida, which is a full day's drive down I-95 from Baltimore.
On the field, however, Pitta seemed to be in fine form on a sunny day at the Ravens' complex about 20 miles west of the Inner Harbor.
Pitta, wearing No. 88, made several catches in his first workout of mini-camp for the Ravens. No tackling was allowed, but Pitta did take a slight tumble after one catch when he was tripped up by a defender. He made another catch and had a nice run down the right sidelines, though again the defense was taking it easy after a catch was made.
"It is fun to finally be playing football again. It was a long time to be on the sidelines," said Pitta, an All-American tight end in 2009.
The Ravens have been a defense-first team that uses a ball-control offense under quarterback Joe Flacco, a former University of Delaware quarterback who will enter his third NFL season this summer.
"He is a great quarterback and a tremendous leader," Pitta said of Flacco, who won two playoff games as a rookie in 2008. "I am fortunate to have a guy like that at the helm. Hopefully I can do my assignments and build some trust there and help this team anyway I can. He is a great player. I am excited. We have a great team around us."
Does Pitta, who had a school-record 216 catches at BYU, feel he can aid the Baltimore passing attack?
"I was fortunate to catch a lot of footballs at BYU," he said. "I will help any way I can."
Pitta is the latest in a long line of Ravens with ties to the state of Utah. The current roster includes All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata, a Salt Lake native and Highland High product; Beck; guard/tackle David Hale (Weber State/Fremont High); linebacker/defensive end Paul Kruger (Utah/Timpanogos High); nose tackle Kelly Talavou (Utah); and wide receiver David Reed (Utah), who was drafted in the fifth round by the Ravens in April.
"He is a great player. He is a great tight end," Reed said of Pitta.
If those seven players make the 53-man roster of the Baltimore team, some 13 percent of the entire Ravens team would be guys who played prep or college ball in Utah.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the first morning of mini camp, "I was really happy with the rookies, the draft choices ... picking up the complexities of what we do. We threw it all at them, and they picked it up tremendously well."
Ravens position coaches left Maryland to meet with recent picks the week after the April draft. Wade Harman, who played and coached at Utah State, is the tight ends coach for the Ravens.
"We tried to get them honed in before they got here," Harbaugh said.
"With Dennis Pitta, one thing that's very evident is that he's a very mature kid," Harman said. "Obviously, he's a little older after going on the (LDS Church) mission, but the game's not too big for him. He likes to compete, and he's very calm.
"We're doing a lot of things, and even if he's not sure about everything, he's really calm in what he's doing," Harman continued. "The other thing is he's catching the ball really well. He's got great hands. I think he was the reception leader at BYU, and it's very evident why. If you throw the ball near him, he's going to bring it down."
Still, getting onto the field may be a challenge for Pitta when the Ravens open the preseason Aug. 12 at Carolina. Todd Heap, an Arizona State product with 10 years of NFL experience, is the veteran tight end for the Ravens, and the team also picked tight end Ed Dickson in the third round out of the University of Oregon. Davon Drew, a tight end from East Carolina, is also on the roster.
"Todd Heap is our tight end," Harbaugh told reporters after the draft. "We expect a great year from Todd Heap."
What chance does Pitta have for playing time?
"I don't know. It is real early. There is a lot to prove," Pitta said. "I am going to do what I can to show my abilities. I am going to compete and do everything I can to get a spot."
Pitta felt his draft stock dropped due to his age. He is 24 and spent two years on an LDS mission in the Dominican Republic during the 2005-06 seasons.
"I am fortunate to be a Raven now," he said. "I feel I am in a great situation. Hopefully I can make the best of this situation. I have great coaches around me."