AFC North Roundup: Ravens TE Dennis Pitta Practices, Cam Heyward, NFL Reach Agreement on Eye Black, Andrew Whitworth Wants Media Change

This week's AFC North Roundup includes the return of tight end Dennis Pitta to the Baltimore Ravens' practice field, the NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward come to an agreement about tribute eye black and Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth is still upset with the NFL Network's cameras

Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta opened the 2015 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list after Pitta suffered his second career dislocated and fractured hip in Week 3 of the 2014 season. For the second time, Pitta needed significant surgery to repair the injury and because it was the second time the hip had taken such trauma, the recovery time was considerably longer than it was a year prior.

In 2014, Pitta was set to be the centerpiece of the Ravens’ passing offense. Pitta had already developed great on- and off-field chemistry with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and the evidence was overwhelming concerning how much good work the two could do together. In 2012, he last fully healthy year with the Ravens, Pitta caught 61 passes on 94 targets for 669 yards and seven scores. And he seemed well on his way to another good year in 2014, with 16 catches on 21 targets for 125 yards before re-injuring his hip.

But there’s good news for Pitta and the Ravens. Ryan Mink of the Ravens’ official website reported on Wednesday that Pitta will take part in that day’s practice session. Though eligible to play on Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals, he does have up to three weeks worth of practices before the Ravens must decide to either activate him to the 53-man roster or to place Pitta on injured reserve.

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh does not think that Pitta is on track to play in Week 7, saying, “I wouldn’t make too much of it, especially for this week. Don’t get carried away. Probably the bigger thing is how he feels today, but how he feels tomorrow and the next day and the day after that after practicing.”

Even with Flacco connecting on a regular basis with receiver Steve Smith and has cultivated a rapport with tight ends Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, nothing replaces the go-to ability of Pitta. The Ravens particularly need more experience out of its pass-catchers and Pitta would certainly supply that. But, for now, the Ravens and Pitta are taking it slow, easing the tight end back onto the practice field. This is, though, an encouraging sign that Pitta can come back and that his NFL career is far from over.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cam Heyward, NFL Reach Agreement on Eye Black

In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 6 Monday Night Football contest against the San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward decided to use the league’s October campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer to raise awareness about all those whose lives are affected by any type of cancer. To do this, he wore a tribute to his father and former NFL player Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, by wearing eye black patches that read “Iron” and “Head.”

The league did not take the decision well, fining Heyward $5,787 for violating the league’s on-field dress code policy. Still, Heyward donned the custom eye black patches again in Week 6. Doing so would have opened him up to a second-offense fine of $11,576. Instead, reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Heyward and the NFL have come to an agreement regarding the fines. 

According to sources, the NFL has chosen to decrease the amounts of both fines, while Heyward has decided to give up wearing the eye black and provide a tribute to his father and other cancer patients in another way. Heyward said that after a “respectful exchange” with the league, “I consider myself a team player and someone who puts others before myself, and I don't want to be a distraction to my teammates or the Steelers organization. With that, I will not be writing on my eye black going forward anymore. I will be honoring my father in other ways on and off the field."

Heyward is now in charitable partnership with EyeBlack.com, which will be selling the “Iron Head” eye blacks, with money going to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation. “Ironhead” Heyward, a former NFL fullback, passed away from cancer in 2006.

Cincinnati Bengals: Andrew Whitworth Wants NFL Locker Room Camera Policies Changed

In one of the lowest moments in NFL Network history, a Network camera crew was assigned to interview Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones following the team’s Week 6 defeat of the Buffalo Bills. On live television, the NFL Network cameras caught various Bengals players in states of undress, getting ready to go into or out of the showers. Though, after a few awkward moments, the camera zoomed in on Jones’ face, everyone had already seen enough. The visuals sent the NFL Network studio crew into fits of laughter that marred their ability to breakdown the highlights of the game.

Bengals offense tackle Andrew Whitworth does not find anything about what happened on Sunday to be funny. He said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr. earlier this week, that open locker room policies around the league need changing. Said Whitworth:

“Being a guy that has been a player rep and a guy that’s always been against this policy, it’s a great example of why the open [ocker ]room policy is old and needs to change. You can’t judge us off who we will and won’t accept into our locker room and then say all these things we have to do, but then also put us in a situation where every single day I have to change clothes and be naked or not in front of media. It’s just not right. There’s no office, there’s no other situation in America where you have to do that. It’s dated, it’s old and it needs to change.”

The NFL requires a 10-minute cooling-off period after games before reporters can enter the locker room, plus mandates open locker room player access on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. But Whitworth, a former Bengals’ NFLPA union representative, says there needs to be better, higher standards. Whitworth continued: This is my office space. I shouldn’t have to change in it and be in front of people I don’t know or really don’t have any purpose for being near me other than the fact they are interviewing other people.”

A solution, Dehner points out, is to use Europe’s Premier League Soccer as a benchmark. There is no locker room access, but rather media and players meet in a “mixed zone.” However, Premier League players aren’t required to do so, and this results in little media access. A mandatory “mixed zone,” could therefore allow for the access the NFL media has worked hard to get while players don’t have cameras around them while they are getting changed.

NFL Network Vice President of Communications, Alex Riethmiller, said, “It was a regrettable mistake by our production team, one where we have already done a pretty thorough review of the procedures and processes by which were dropped along the way to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” But that isn’t enough for Whitworth: “I’ve heard nothing other than I’m sure they will say they are sorry through our media or something and won’t issue a public apology, but that won’t be good enough. This is a big issue to me.” Only a change in policy will suffice for him. 


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