With an unfortunate hip injury keeping Denis Pitta off the field for the 2013 season, much will be made about who will replace his productivity and versatility.
Naturally, Ed Dickson’s name will come up consistently in the coming weeks because he is well known as Pitta’s back up. But, can he do the same things that Pitta does? It isn’t ridiculous to think he can’t. But, why is that?
Despite being very athletic, Dickson has struggled to make an impact after the Ravens drafted him in the third round of the 2010 draft. Particularly, inability to produce out of the slot has kept him out of many passing downs.
What Dickson does well is catch the ball as an inline Tight End. He simply isn’t the slot receiver threat Pitta is. Unfortunately for Dickson, he was never put in a position to succeed under Cam Cameron.
During Cameron’s run as Offensive Coordinator, Dickson was used as an inline Tight End for only about 65% of his snaps, earning a 1.12 yards per route run average. When Caldwell took over, that number jumped up to 85% with a 2.43 yards per route run average.
Clearly, Dickson should stay in his inline role Caldwell assigned him last year, leaving Kyle Jusczcyk as the only other legitimate Tight End option assuming Billy Bajema doesn’t find Mike Ditka’s old cleats hanging from a telephone pole wire. And yes, that is a “Like Mike” reference.
As I wrote in a previous article, Juszczyk has the ability to multiple roles in this offense; including Tight End. While Juszczyk hasn’t developed the chemistry Pitta has with Joe Flacco, he is a very athletic guy who has a ton of experience lining up in the slot and running precise routes.
Using Juszczyk in Pitta-esque roles would allow the Ravens to use Vonta Leach in his old role if he ever signs back with the team. While this may hinder the Ravens’ ability to run the no-huddle, it may be necessary for them to have offensive success.
The final, and most practical, option the Ravens have is exploring the possibility of using a wide receiver in Pitta’s slot role. Currently the Ravens have two slot receivers in Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson battling it out for snaps.
Doss, a fourth round pick in 2010, has been a slight disappointment during his short career. He hasn’t been able to crack the starting line up in recent years; however, with the loss of Pitta and Boldin, he could get some time to finally create that ever-important chemistry with Joe Flacco. Apparently, Doss has looked more “explosive” than in years past, making a serious push for more time on the field.
Thompson, the second year speedster out of Florida, has made quite an impression on the coaches this offseason. His great hands, clean routes, and his ability to gain yards after the catch have given him an opportunity to work with the first team offense at times during the opening practices of Training Camp.
While the Ravens have multiple choices to replace Pitta, none of them have his versatility. Pitta can run routes like slot receivers and block like average Tight Ends. While the Ravens can replace one of those traits, they can’t replace both – not with the same player.
So, no matter how the Ravens manage this situation, the offense is going to hurt in some capacity. And, it will continue to hurt until Pitta recovers and makes his way back onto the field in 2014.