With Pitta out, Ravens turn to Dickson, Shiancoe
The Baltimore Ravens can't afford to sulk over the loss of Dennis Pitta.
Baltimore has a Super Bowl championship to defend, and it's up to Ed Dickson and newcomer Visanthe Shiancoe to help the team move forward without its talented tight end.
Pitta fractured and dislocated his hip during practice Saturday and is lost for the season. That's a significant blow, because he was a key contributor to Baltimore's run to a second NFL championship.
Pitta scored seven touchdowns, second most on the team, to help the Ravens win the AFC North. He added 14 catches and three scores in the postseason, and was expected to be an even bigger threat in the middle this year after Baltimore traded away possession receiver Anquan Boldin.
''Pitta is a tough loss for us,'' said wide receiver Torrey Smith, ''but someone is going to have to step it up.''
Dickson and Schiancoe have been asked to fill the void. Both will be looking to rebound from disappointing 2012 seasons tainted by injury.
Dickson had 54 receptions and scored three touchdowns in 2011, but caught only 21 passes last season and did not score. A sore knee and Pitta's emergence as a star were factors in the decline, but this year Dickson is determined to fulfill his stature as the team's third-round pick in 2010.
''My expectations before the season were to contribute and help this team get back to where we were last year,'' he said. ''I wanted my production to go up. You have to prove out here in practice each and every day that you're the guy and you can get the job done.''
The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder will get that chance in the weeks ahead, leading up to the Sept. 5 opener in Denver.
''You hate to get an opportunity in this fashion, but you have to relish the opportunity because it doesn't come by that often,'' Dickson said. ''The team needs me to step up. They need other guys to step up and make those plays.''
Pitta and Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco had a rapport that extended beyond the football field. Dickson intends to forge a working relationship first, then see if a friendship will build.
''They eat breakfast and everything together,'' Dickson said. ''I'm not going to stalk Joe and follow him around, but I'm going to be right there in his pocket. I'm going to master everything on the field, and even off the field.
''That chemistry has to come from a different bond. You've seen it with Joe and (Todd) Heap, and you've seen it with Dennis and Joe. So, I want to get a little bit on that level. I went to Joe and said, `I'm not trying to replace Dennis,' as being his friend. I just want to get closer to Joe and build that chemistry, because it will help on the field.''
Shiancoe played college ball at Morgan State in Baltimore before launching his NFL career with the New York Giants. He saw limited action with New York from 2003-06 but achieved stardom with Minnesota, where he scored 24 touchdowns over five seasons. An injury limited his time with New England last year to four games, and he didn't have a catch.
The Ravens have been forced to put Pitta's absence behind them, and Shiancoe intends to do the same with his experience in New England.
''It started off with an injury. I ripped my hamstring off the bone,'' he said. ''I just want to leave that all in the past.''
Shiancoe visited the Ravens on Friday, the day before Pitta collided with safety James Ihedigbo in the end zone vying for a pass and came down awkwardly on his hip. Shiancoe signed a one-year contract on Sunday, and promptly joined his new teammates for practice.
''I'm really excited for the opportunity, and I'm just ready to work,'' he said. ''Welcome back to Baltimore.''
The Ravens were equally enthusiastic about his arrival.
''A real talented pass-receiving tight end, a good, tough blocker,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''You can see he's in great shape. One of the things that we were really impressed about him is how fit he was. He blew away the conditioning test, and he blew away his workout. He really looks good. He's very excited to be here. He's from down in Bowie (Md.). He's a Morgan State guy. He's been in the league a long time.''
Shaincoe is wearing Boldin's No. 81. The 33-year-old can only hope to enjoy a measure of the success that Boldin did with Baltimore, especially when it comes to contributing to a Super Bowl run. As a free agent, Shaincoe had a chance to peddle his talent around the league.
His main target, however, was the Ravens.
''They are champions,'' he said. ''You can't beat that.''