No offensive positional group will look more different for the Baltimore Ravens this seasons than tight end, where newly re-signed Dennis Pitta is the lone returning player at the position.
After an underwhelming 2013 season in which Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark were the two main contributors, the front office overhauled and improve a once ailing group.
While still not anything above average, Baltimore’s set of tight ends is much more promising heading into this year than the last.
Notable new additions: Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore - Once offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak arrived in Baltimore, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Daniels would end up in a Ravens uniform.
Prior to signing Daniels, all the Ravens had at tight end was Pitta, so bringing in an experienced veteran with familiarity in the offense on a low-risk deal for one year wasn’t anything to complain about.
He’s going on 32 years old and hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2008, but Daniels offers more blocking ability than Dickson ever did, and can still be a dependable short-t0-intermediate target.
Gillmore, a third-round draft pick, enters his rookie campaign third on the depth chart behind Pitta and Daniels. In Gillmore’s case, the focus should be shifted to long term, as his 6’6 frame and 10 3/8″ hands are intriguing physical attributes to build on.
Tight end with most to prove: Dennis Pitta - Keeping your $120 million quarterback happy is nice, and the Ravens did just that by re-signing Pitta to a five-year deal during the offseason.
However, now 29 and coming off a hip injury that kept Pitta off the field for most of 2013, it’s unknown as to whether or not he can still be the type of tight end he was in 2012, when he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs.
Throw in his 14 catches and three touchdowns during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run, and by the end of 2012, he emerged as one of the NFL’s best young receiving tight ends.
Now, Pitta has fallen out of the discussion, partially due to his injury, and partially due to his underwhelming 169 yards on 20 catches in four games last December. Given the circumstances, any contribution out of Pitta was more than expected, so it’s hard to complain about his early return.
With a full offseason to recover, which Pitta will we see?
It’s easy to chalk up his lack of explosiveness in 2013 to the injury, but we won’t know for sure until he takes the field this season.
Tying Jared Cook for the most guaranteed money of any tight end in the NFL ($16 million) when he signed, there’s little room for error in order for Pitta to live up to the expectations the team set for him by giving him such a lucrative contract.
Tight end to follow: Crockett Gillmore - While Gillmore will begin his Ravens career as the third tight end, as mentioned above, Daniels’ inconsistent health over the past five seasons makes it unclear as to whether or not the veteran can be relied on for a full season.
If Daniels indeed misses some time during the regular season, Gillmore will get early-career playing time, which could pay off, as he figures to take on a much larger role in 2015, if Daniels departs after his lone season under contract with the Ravens.
Building on the Pitta-Gillmore duo long term will call on Gillmore to develop as a blocker, since Pitta isn’t very accomplished in that department, and quite frankly isn’t used as a blocker as much any more as an in-line tight end.
Gillmore was an inconsistent blocker at Colorado State, as his massive frame sometimes led to his disadvantage, finding himself reaching to gain leverage. Early on in training camp and the preseason, keep an eye on how well Gillmore blocks, and more importantly how often the Ravens use him as the blocking tight end.