OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta, 26, the former record-setting tight end for BYU, spent most of the off-season working out in Arizona following his rookie year in the NFL. He was there in July when he got word that the NFL lockout was over.
"We knew things were getting close. I was tracking it every day," said Pitta, now in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens. "ESPN was our best friend" during the lockout.
Less than 24 hours after Pitta got word the lockout was over he was on a flight from Phoenix to Baltimore. "It happened very quickly," Pitta said.
The 6-foot-4 Pitta, who made two visits to Utah during the off-season, spent a lot of the spring and summer working out with NFL veteran All-Pro tight end Todd Heap in Arizona.
But as Pitta headed to Baltimore he left behind Heap, a former Ravens' teammate who now plays for the Arizona Cardinals. Heap, 31, who played at Arizona State, is now in his 11th NFL season and had 40 catches last year for Baltimore.
It was a physical and symbolic parting for Pitta, who was able to learn the tight end position from Heap in their one year together in Baltimore.
"I stay in close touch with Todd," Pitta said before a recent practice in suburban Baltimore. "He is a good friend of mine. It was tough to see him go. He was so valuable to this team as a teammate and a leader."
The departure of Heap may give more playing time to Pitta and Ed Dickson, another second-year tight end who played in college at Oregon and had 11 catches last season for the Ravens.
The Ravens played their last preseason game last Thursday, a 21-7 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta. The regular-season opener is Sept. 11 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pitta said being a second-year player is a huge plus. "Absolutely, a lot more so," he said. "Making the transition as a rookie is tough. You don't know what to expect from a physical standpoint."
The former BYU star played in 11 games, with no starts, as a rookie last year and had one catch for one yard. He also had one tackle on special teams after he set a school record at BYU with 221 catches, with 21 touchdowns.
The California native feels he is ready to take on more tight-end duties this season, despite missing time from the lockout. "The toughest part was working out on your own. I think I handled it well. I think I had a great off-season. I feel I have been doing what is asked of me to help this team."
Another second-year receiver for the Ravens with Utah ties is David Reed, a wideout from the University of Utah. "David has been a great player for us," Pitta said. Reed had three catches for 68 yards in a 31-13 preseason win over Kansas City.
"I was excited to be out there. I wanted to play so bad," Reed told reporters in late August. "I wanted to play from the start. But I got my time in and I made a couple of plays, and I've just got to build on that."
Last year Reed led the NFL with an average of 29.3 yards on 21 kickoff returns, including one of 103 yards for a touchdown against Houston. He did not have a catch in 13 games and had one carry for 15 yards.
Paul Kruger, another former Utes' star, is in his third year with the Ravens as a defensive end/linebacker.
"I want to do a lot of great things here," Kruger told The Carroll County (MD) Times, "and I want to be a good player. I want to be out there every play and doing my best to help the team. I'm doing what I can to get there."
Kruger played in 11 games last year and had one tackle and one interception, which set up the game-winning field goal against rival Pittsburgh in November.
Other players on the roster as of Aug. 30 with Utah connections include All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a Salt Lake native from Highland High; and Patrick Scales, a rookie long snapper from Utah State.
NFL Week 1
Thursday, September 8
New Orleans at Green Bay
Sunday, September 11
New Orleans at Green Bay
Atlanta at Chicago
Cincinnati at Cleveland
Buffalo at Kansas City
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Detroit at Tampa Bay
Tennessee at Jacksonville
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Indianapolis at Houston
NY Giants at Washington
Seattle at San Francisco
Minnesota at San Diego
Carolina at Arizona
Dallas at NY Jets
Monday, September 12
New England at Miami
Oakland at Denver
Editor's note: David Driver is a free-lance writer in Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com