Ravens impressed with rookie tight ends

OWINGS MILLS – Todd Heap darted past a linebacker, accelerating upfield until he was well behind the safeties to haul in a Joe Flacco touchdown pass. That's not an unusual feat for the Baltimore Ravens' starting tight end, a veteran player who's the team's all-time leader in every receiving category.

It's the impressive second act from rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta that has generated some excitement around the Ravens' training complex. And their addition could provide the Ravens with enough flexibility to dust off the double tight end formation that hasn't been used much around here in recent years beyond short-yardage and red-zone schemes.

"Ed and Dennis have shown us why we drafted them," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday during a passing camp. "They're both very talented. You saw them make plays downfield.

They've got catch radius, they've got range, and they've got good hands. They're picking things up quickly, so they've been a real plus so far."

Despite his 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame, Dickson has been running routes as adeptly as most wide receivers with his ability to gain separation, his soft hands and run after the catch capabilities.

And Pitta has lined up at a variety of positions, including fullback and H-back, flashing versatility and hands.

During the Ravens' passing camp Tuesday, Pitta flashed across the middle on a crossing route for a touchdown from fellow Brigham Young alum John Beck.

Both are imposing targets who are fast enough to get open on a consistent basis. Both were extremely prolific at the college level.

"I think they're doing great," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "They're big, they're athletic and they can catch the ball. As long as they continue to keep track with the offense on the pace that they're doing, then we're going to be good.

"They're learning it and they're picking it up quick. If they keep doing it and they keep working hard, then we're going to be expecting something out of them."

When the Ravens drafted Dickson in the third round out of Oregon and Pitta in the fourth round, they immediately created a competition for playing time behind Heap.

And it offered Heap a reminder of his rookie season when he was an apprentice learning everything he could from Shannon Sharpe.

"It's fun because I can reflect back on my days as a rookie when I came in and I was hungry to learn from Shannon," Heap said. "I see the same characteristics in these guys. They're talented guys and they're really not afraid to work really hard and soak it up."

After running a route, Dickson routinely gets counseled by two coaches: tight ends coach Wade Harman and Heap.

With Heap, his feedback tends to be positive and not overwhelming.

"Todd gives us the finer points," Dickson said. "He gives me suggestions, not, ‘Do it this way.' He says, ‘I would do it like this.' I listen to that kind of stuff. He's where I want to be."

Pitta caught 221 career passes for 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns at BYU, breaking Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie's record for receptions.

No tight end put up the numbers that Dickson posted at Oregon, where he registered 124 receptions for 1,557 yards and a dozen touchdowns.

"They're a little bit different body-wise, I think they both bring a lot to the table in the passing game," Harbaugh said. "Ed is probably faster, Dennis is probably longer. They both have good hands.

"They both get in and out of routes really well. From a receiving standpoint, everything we expected. Once we get the pads on, we'll find out about that, about the blocking. In shorts, you see what you see. They've looked good so far."

The Ravens have no plans of usurping Heap anytime soon, though.

They envision Dickson and Pitta augmenting what they've already got in Heap.

"If you look at the last couple of years, we haven't run a ton of two tight end formations, especially in the middle of the field," Heap said. "I think having them here is something that will add another facet to our offense and add another dimension that teams are going to have to prepare for. Both of these guys are going to be threats. It's fun how this whole thing is going to evolve."

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