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Dick Harmon: Dennis Pitta's NFL world changed in a freakish split second

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 4:10 a.m. MDT

Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) tries to get away from Indianapolis Colts free safety Antoine Bethea (41) and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, in Baltimore. (Nick Wass, AP) Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) tries to get away from Indianapolis Colts free safety Antoine Bethea (41) and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) during the first half of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, in Baltimore. (Nick Wass, AP)

A week ago Dennis Pitta was gliding through a Baltimore Ravens football practice, doing what he does best in an 11-on-11 drill: making himself a big target for his best friend, quarterback Joe Flacco.

In a split second, a freak accident involving a collision with a pursuing linebacker and defensive back sent the 28-year-old tight end from BYU crashing to the turf in a heap. As a result, he dislocated his hip and his post-Super Bowl season with the Ravens was over before it began.

One can only imagine the devastation the incident brought Pitta. Through hard work, he’d become one of the NFL’s most dependable third-down tight ends. He and Flacco were hooked at the hip on and off the field. In a contract year, he stood to add layers of value to his stock as a 2014 unrestricted free agent.

Today, he’s an armchair witness to the game’s top stage. Just like the rest of us.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta runs with the ball in the second half of an NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The former BYU tight end is reportedly receiving interest from other NFL teams as a restricted free agent. (Associated Press) Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta runs with the ball in the second half of an NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The former BYU tight end is reportedly receiving interest from other NFL teams as a restricted free agent. (Associated Press)

According to the Pitta family, Dennis is prohibited by the Ravens from discussing his injury. He has yet to grant any media interviews, but several experts, including his own head coach, have provided plenty of commentary on Pitta during the past week.

“If anything, this gives Dennis a chance to bond with his son Derek, who is 3 months old,” said Dennis Pitta Sr.

Most importantly, Pitta should fully recover from the injury. One expert, who did not examine Pitta but gave an opinion to The Baltimore Sun after seeing results of his MRI, said it is possible Pitta could return later this season.

There’s been plenty of speculation that Pitta should undergo multiple MRIs in weeks to come to examine the blood supply to his hip. The caution here is that he doesn’t get into the same situation that ended the career of Bo Jackson, who disclocated his hip.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta reaches out to catch a pass during NFL football practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (Associated Press) Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta reaches out to catch a pass during NFL football practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (Associated Press)

When Jackson began his rehab process — which Pitta will do in a few weeks — he developed avascular necrosis, an interruption of the blood supply to the femoral head. It ended Jackson’s career.

Ravens medical experts kept this in mind when they quickly took Pitta to surgeons to align and fix his hip socket Saturday night. Doctors removed a chipped bone from his hip and replaced the ball in the hip joint. His injury resembled what you see in car accidents when the hip is pushed into the engine firewall or dashboard. By reports, his alignment is perfect and a full recovery is expected.

"The most important thing that determines whether this athlete will recover completely or return this year is whether or not there is any damage to the soft tissues, and by that I mean the cartilage in the ball and in the socket," Dr. William Long, medical director of Orthopedic Computer Surgery Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, told The Baltimore Sun. "If it's true that the cartilage is OK, he can recover completely because a fracture can heal stronger than it was before. The cartilage, if it's damaged, you'd never recover. You don't get cartilage back."

Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, right, comes down with a pass against Denver Broncos free safety Jim Leonhard in overtime Saturday in Denver. Pitta played in college at BYU. (Associated Press) Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, right, comes down with a pass against Denver Broncos free safety Jim Leonhard in overtime Saturday in Denver. Pitta played in college at BYU. (Associated Press)

The Pitta injury became part of an NFL maze of mishaps to pass catchers during the final week of July. Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin (hip surgery) and Philadelphia Eagles star Jeremy Maclin (torn ACL) will also miss this season.

For locals who have tuned into the Ravens because of the numerous local ties to college players from BYU and Utah, the Pitta situation looms especially tragic.

Pitta is one of the good guys. Humble yet confident, quiet but extremely strong and dependable, he established himself as Flacco’s go-to guy last season. Pitta has always delivered big catches at crucial times. He seemingly makes the tough catch look easy and his size and speed make it a nightmare for defenders.

He is also a refreshing story compared to a rash of NFL players arrested for drugs, domestic violence and alleged murder.

Pitta is earning around $6 million right now and with a good season in 2013 he could have set himself up for a once-in-a lifetime contract as a free agent.

There is no indication the Ravens won't be anxious to re-sign Pitta after the season — especially with Flacco’s endorsement — and it’s uncertain what impact, if any, sitting out 2013 will have on his negotiating power in free agency.

But it kind of saps something out of anticipation for this season to have a local guy go down, especially when he wears a Super Bowl ring and he’s so likable as a man.

Pitta has done nothing but impress his entire football career, including his run at BYU, where his 221 career catches remains the all-time standard.

All injuries are tragic, but injuries are part of the business.

Get well, big guy. And enjoy your time bonding with that new son.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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