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Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta more than filled the shoes of departed longtime tight end Todd Heap.
In their first seasons splitting the workload, they combined to catch 94 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are better numbers than any of Heap’s 10 seasons in Baltimore in all three categories.
Now Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron only sees more production ahead out of his two young tight ends.
“Those two are right on track in their development and we expect big years out of both of them next year,” Cameron said.
Dickson and Pitta entered the 2011 season with 12 catches between them. Dickson accounted for 11.
This season they developed not only as blockers and special teams players, Cameron said, but they added another wrinkle of versatility to Baltimore’s offense. The Ravens had a two-pronged attack.
Both second-year players started to better understand opposing coverages, Cameron said. Those coverages started to change as Dickson and Pitta got on opponents’ radars. They would get a mixture of defenders jamming, bumping and pressing them.
“It’s always an adjustment when any player becomes a full-time starter for the first time,” Cameron said.
“They learned that week in and week out, teams aren’t going to let you catch the ball easily. So then they had to adjust their game. Their releases got better.”
Seeing the tight ends’ progression in practice and games allowed Cameron to rely on them more down the stretch. Pitta, in particular, became an integral target, and logged three touchdowns in his final six regular-season games and another in the AFC championship versus New England.
Against Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, Pitta was the key part of the game plan as a wide receiver with Anquan Boldin sidelined. Pitta caught six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve asked them to do a lot since they’ve been here,” Cameron said. “But until it looks like you want it to in practice, you’re not going to utilize it in the game.
“Now there’s really not anything you’re going to stay away from. These guys can play outside, inside, out of the backfield if they need to. So they’ll be more and more versatile.”
Pitta was targeted by a third-down pass during the Ravens’ final drive in the AFC championship, but the ball fell incomplete with a lot of contact that some argued should have drawn a flag on the play.
He went into the offseason thinking about that play, saying he would get back to work catching passes after a short break. Pitta plans to meet up with Heap, as well as Joe Flacco and his wife, in Arizona this offseason.
“When Ed and I came into this year, we weren’t really thinking we had to do what Todd did. It was just about playing our game and doing what we knew we were capable of,” Pitta said.
“We feel like we had a good year, and a lot of great things to build on from here. We gained a lot of valuable experience and we’re excited about the future and the things we can accomplish offensively as a team.”