For the first time since suffering a gruesome injury to his hip July 27, tight end Dennis Pitta is back on the practice field.
"It feels awesome to be able to get back and be in meetings with the guys and hit the field a little bit. I feel great," Pitta said Wednesday. "I'm going to take it slow, though, and make sure I can kind of integrate myself back in, and I'm feeling good."
Pitta, 28, emerged as one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets over the middle a year ago, making a career-high 61 receptions. But during the first week of training camp, he dislocated his hip in a collision with safety James Ihedigbo. The hip required surgery and it was feared that Pitta was lost for the season.
But based on what doctors saw during the procedure, the Ravens opted to place Pitta on injured reserve with a designation to return. All along, the team has said Pitta could get back to work in mid- to late November.
And right on schedule, he's back practicing.
"We'll just take that one day at a time and see how it goes," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's been working hard obviously. He's done a great job with the rehab. It will be interesting to see how he comes along in practice. ...
"Just seen a lot of hard work from Dennis. He came back in really pretty quickly after the surgery and was able to move it around. What they do nowadays is pretty incredible, with the techniques of surgery. There's no casting or anything like that. He was able to walk and run pretty quickly. Then he was on the body weight stuff, he took the weight off and started moving, lifting weights almost from Day 1. Then running for the last number of weeks."
Pitta said he was always confident that he'd be able to practice again this season.
"Yeah, absolutely. That was always the plan and I had no setbacks in my rehab and treatment, and everything has been going well," he said. "We've been working hard. I'm excited to be able to get a little taste of football again."
When Pitta will be able to return to game action has yet to be determined. Harbaugh said he believes the same rules apply to the IR/designated to return list as the physically unable to perform list, where the team has three weeks from the time a player begins practicing to decide whether to activate him.
That would mean Baltimore has until Dec. 11 to determine whether Pitta would help the team enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster. Even if the Ravens activate him, they don't have to play him right away. So he could be added to the roster and deactivated on game days until he's ready to go if it takes longer than three weeks.
So Harbaugh wasn't keen on estimating a date when Pitta might play again.
"It's impossible to say. Without getting ahead of ourselves, as soon as possible," Harbaugh said. "But safety is No. 1 and his ability to perform out there are the two factors involved."
As for Pitta's barometer for being able to play...
"I've got to be able to play at an elite level and that's what it takes to play in this league," he said. "We'll see how the next few weeks go, and see how I progress and how I'm doing on the field. So I'm not sure as of right now of that timetable. ...
"I've stayed true to the rehab and done everything that I've been asked to do. Obviously, I haven't had any contact or live contact of any kind, and things like that you just can't simulate outside of the football field. So I'll do what I can and take it slow and make sure we're smart about it, and that I'm ready to go when that time comes."
Pitta's teammates, especially Flacco, have missed the 6-foot-4 pass-catching tight end. Pitta had 101 catches for 1,074 yards from 2011-12, and the Ravens have lacked a consistent threat over the middle without him.
"It's nothing against anybody - receivers, tight ends or anything. I think any time you lose a good player that's been a big part of what we've done around here, you miss something," Flacco said. "I really don't know the extent of what Dennis is going to be able to do today, tomorrow or the next day, but it's just always good to see somebody back and the fact that he's running around a little bit."
Being out of action has been difficult for Pitta, who has seen Baltimore start the year 4-6 and struggle offensively without him.
"It's tough. It's really hard to watch and not be able to contribute and not be able to be with your team," Pitta said. "So, being injured, it's tough. It's a long journey and process getting back. Fortunately, I've got most of that behind me and can get back on the field and be with the team a little bit more."
Fellow tight end Ed Dickson has had a rough season filling some of the role Pitta would have. Dickson battled drops early and has just 12 catches for 140 yards in 10 games.
He's well aware of what Pitta would add back to the offense.
"Versatility. With him out there ... he caught 61 passes last year and I think if he got set to play this (full) year, he might've caught more," Dickson said. "That's the chemistry he has with Joe. He's a dynamic player and you've got to account for him at all times. When you have him out there, they've got to account for him. Getting him back on the field, it's more depth and it's another pass-catcher out there for Joe."
Pitta stayed neutral when asked about the chance he could play Sunday against the New York Jets.
"I'll focus on today and see how today feels, and how I feel actually putting a helmet back on and running and doing all that," he said.
Pitta is also in a contract year and weighed in on whether that factored into him pushing to get back on the field following an injury that had the potential to shelve him for the whole season.
"It's not something I've thought about," he said. "Obviously, it's a part of this business. But I'm focused on helping our team win and doing what I can to get back and contribute."