Tom Uhlman, Associated Press
Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) had 40 catches this year after seeing limited action in 2010.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Statistics alone don't measure the improvement of players in the National Football League. But the numbers posted this season by Dennis Pitta, the former BYU standout tight end, have been impressive no matter the evaluation technique.
A second-year tight end with the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens, Pitta had 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns in regular-season play this year.
That comes on the heels of his rookie season when Pitta came off the bench in 11 games and had just one catch.
"Obviously, I felt good about it," Pitta said of his second season with the Ravens, who face Houston on Sunday in the second round of the NFL playoffs. "I did not get a whole lot of playing time last year. I did not get a lot of opportunities. Last year was about being patient and understanding my role on that team and that offense."
The increased production has a lot to do with the departure of veteran tight end Todd Heap, a former Arizona State standout who left the Ravens to play for the Cardinals this season. "Obviously with Todd departing, the opportunities were more prevalent this season," said Pitta. "I feel I have been able to make the most of my time and do all I can to help this offense."
Tight ends Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for 94 catches this season, providing yet another weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Baltimore, which finished the regular season 12-4 to win the AFC North, gained a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"It is huge to be able to rest this time of year. … It is crucial," Pitta said. "We get a free pass to the second round, which is nice."
One teammate who has watched Pitta become a key player this year is Ravens' All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a native of Salt Lake City and a former Highland High star who played his college ball at Oregon.
"It is awesome," Ngata said of Pitta. "We figured Ed (Dickson) would be the main guy. Dennis has stepped up. Those guys have done a phenomenal job this year. It gave Joe another option to throw to. Those guys have been huge for us."
Pitta, 26, a fourth-round pick in 2010 out of BYU, gives a lot of credit in his development to veteran tight ends coach Wade Harman, a former assistant and player at Utah State.
"You continue to work on everything. We work on blocking, technique, all of that," Pitta said. "Coach Harman has done a tremendous job of teaching us the fundamentals of that. We continue to work on it."
While the Ravens don't have a quarterback in the likes of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, Pitta feels comfortable with former Delaware star Flacco. He has started every game under head coach John Harbaugh and his 44 wins is the most ever by an NFL quarterback in his first four seasons in the league.
"We have a high-powered quarterback," emphasized Pitta, when asked about the likes of Brady or Rodgers. "I don't think a lot of people get to see that (nationally). We do have a great defense. We don't get to throw it a whole lot but when we do we have complete trust in Flacco."
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And Pitta said he and Dickson, in his second year out of Oregon, work well together. "Ed and I have a great relationship. We are good friends," Pitta said. "But we compete on the field and that is the nature of the sport. We have fun doing it. We push each other and in this offense and we are both able to be on the field. It has been fun to work with him thus far."
Editor's note: David Driver is a freelance writer in Maryland.
NFL Divisional playoffs
New Orleans at San Francisco,
2:30 p.m., FOX
Broncos at Patriots,
Texas at Ravens, 11 a.m., CBS
Giants at Packers, 2:30 p.m., FOX