Separated by just 44 picks in the 2010 draft, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta still bring a tag-team dimension to the Ravens a year later.
Indeed, it seems fitting the Ravens will try to replace two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap this season with a combination of the talents of Dickson, taken in the third round, and Pitta, taken in the fourth.
The footprints Heap leaves are large. Through 10 seasons, before he was released this summer, Heap was the team's career leader in receptions (467) and receiving touchdowns (41). Together, the second-year tight ends have totaled 12 catches and one touchdown.
But like Heap early in his career, Dickson and Pitta have shown rare qualities that may stand the test of time.
"Both can make plays; both have unique things about them," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "We think both are playmakers and both are clutch players."
Both are 6 feet 4 with powerful bodies. At 255, Dickson, from Oregon, is 10 pounds heavier. At 26, Pitta is two years older, having walked on at Brigham Young in 2003 and finished his career in 2009, with a two-year church mission to the Dominican Republic in between.
Dickson had catches of 58 yards (vs. Denver) and 34 (vs. New Orleans) in his rookie season, and had a 33-yard reception this preseason. Pitta tied for the team lead with seven preseason catches, including an acrobatic, over-the-defender grab for 27 yards in Philadelphia.
These are two tight ends who know how to get open and make plays downfield. They were primarily receiving tight ends in college. The question is: Will they be able to make nearly as many plays in the passing game — and block as well — as Heap?
"I don't think we're going to lose anything, just by the nature of our group," Dickson said. "We're a very bright, smart group, myself, Dennis and Kris Wilson. We're not going to miss that much. We're going to miss [Heap] in the meeting room … but we're definitely going to pick up his slack and we're going to hold our standards up just for him."
Heap's standards were pretty high. He had 148 catches from 2005 to 2006. He went to Pro Bowls in 2002 and 2003. But he battled periodic injury and had just 40 catches for five touchdowns last season.
On an offense that needed to find more speed, Dickson likely will start in Sunday's season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Pitta figures to get ample playing time. Both players are capable of lining up in the slot or along the line in the traditional tight end position.
"You're going to see them both in the game in different packages," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "In my mind, we've got two starting tight ends, and each brings something unique to our offense. So we're going to utilize them both, and I think we approach them both as starters."
Pitta, who lacks Dickson's speed but has good hands like Dickson, said he's prepared to play a lot.
"I don't know how it will play out," Pitta said. "All I can do is, when I get in there, do everything I can to help our team be successful. That's my focus. I'm prepared to take a lot of snaps. Whether that's the case or not, we'll see."
Pitta's production over the summer should comfort Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco.
"I just hope I was able to build some chemistry and trust with Joe," Pitta said. "Obviously, that's an important part of our passing game. Hopefully, I was able to show that I can be a guy that can be trusted on the field; that's the most important part."
At BYU, where he caught 221 career passes, Pitta occasionally blocked at the point of attack. Both players, DeCosta said, need to improve their blocking skills. The Steelers will provide the first, and maybe biggest, test.
"One of Todd's greatest improvements from the time he got here until he left was as a blocker," DeCosta said. "Both guys are good football players with physicality. [But] both need to get stronger at the point of attack."
Dickson likes the idea of being a three-down tight end and said he blocked more than he went out in pass routes at Oregon. His speed (he ran a sub-4.6-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 2010) puts him among the league's quicker tight ends. His fondness for being physical makes him a good weapon in the Ravens' offense.
"I thrive off any matchups. It doesn't matter who I'm out there playing against," he said. "If I had Troy Polamalu [of the Steelers], he's a great, great safety, him and Ed Reed. I thrive off those matchups. Just to go against somebody of that magnitude makes me better.
"I'm not putting a cap on what I'm going to achieve this year. Our overall goal every week is to get that 'W', so if I'm contributing toward that, it's great for me. At the end of the season, if I'm Pro Bowl-bound, I'm Pro-Bowl bound. If I've got 50, 60 catches, I'll take it, too, as long as we keep winning."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times