Newsome, Ravens not panicking after loss of Pitta
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The news of Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta's likely season-ending hip injury on Saturday was the kind of solar plexus blow that can knock a football team back on its heels, especially one that's riding high as it opens the defense of its Super Bowl campaign.
But you're not going to get longtime Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome to panic or give in to any woe-is-me sentiment. Not in late July. Not on the first weekend of training camp, when there's still a whole season to contend with and so many different approaches he could take to help fill the gaping void created by Pitta's fractured and dislocated hip.
Newsome has a lengthy track record of keeping a stiff upper lip when it comes to situations like this, a fact I should have remembered from that day early in Baltimore's 2001 training camp, when I arrived just in time to see lead running back Jamal Lewis lost for the season with a torn ACL.
The Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions that year, too. They didn't replace Lewis seamlessly, of course, but they did lure veteran rusher Terry Allen out of retirement, get decent production (658 yards rushing) from him at age 33, and went on to record a 10-6 season, returning to the playoffs and even winning a first-round game. So Newsome has at least been there, and done that, and by the time we chatted in his office Sunday morning, he seemed to have fully digested the shock of Pitta's cruelly abbreviated 2013 season.
"You think San Francisco wants to be without [injured receiver] Michael Crabtree right now?'' Newsome said. "These type of injuries happen in football. We're not the only team that will lose a valuable guy. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.''
Newsome didn't waste much time Sunday making a move to bolster the team's tight end depth chart. Veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, who visited Baltimore's training camp on Friday and watched practice with Newsome, was signed to a one-year deal and took part in a portion of the Ravens' afternoon practice.
Shiancoe, who was with New England for a handful of games last season, may not be Baltimore's only addition at tight end this summer. As Newsome took pains to point out, the Ravens have been known to wait until late in the preseason to make a significant move or two, and might do so again.
"We have a history of making moves just a week or two before the season starts, to be able to put the final pieces together,'' he said. "We did that with [offensive tackle] Bryant McKinnie [in 2011]. He came in just before the last preseason game. We did that with [offensive tackle] Willie Anderson, I think in [head coach] John Harbaugh's first year , and with [cornerback] Josh Wilson on defense [in 2010]. It's awfully early. We don't play [season-opening opponent] Denver tomorrow, and the season is 16 games long. What you worry about is needing to play real good football going into November and December.''
Newsome's main point of contention Sunday was that the Ravens still have time to figure out how to offset the loss of a player who seemingly was primed for even bigger and better things in 2013, with many expecting Pitta to assume a significantly larger role in the offense in light of receiver Anquan Boldin's offseason trade to San Francisco. The conventional wisdom said that Pitta would be quarterback Joe Flacco's go-to target inside, and likely continue to expand his already sizable red zone presence. Flacco's and Pitta's passing game rapport was already well developed and now Baltimore will be without its top two receiving weapons with Boldin gone and Pitta injured.
"We don't know yet what our identity is going to be on offense yet, because it hasn't been established yet,'' Newsome said. "It's not there yet, but it wasn't there yet when Dennis was out there working. It's going to be developed through training camp and in the preseason games. Now if Dennis is not going to be a part of the offense all year, the offense has to figure out what it is and what it can do best.
"Are we capable of running the football? Are we capable of getting the ball out faster? It could be an offensive identity where we're running, going play action, and having speed at receiver. Because we've got three guys who are going to get behind people now. And people are more afraid of that than the 10-12-yard completion. They don't want anybody to get behind them, so they're going to have to defend the full field because of Torrey [Smith], Jacoby [Jones] and Deonte [Thompson].''
Whatever identity the Ravens' offense develops, it's going to be a different one from the version Baltimore used to sweep through last season's playoffs, going 4-0 and winning a surprise Super Bowl title. Boldin and Pitta combined for a whopping 36 catches for 543 yards and seven touchdowns in the postseason, making them far and away the Ravens' most potent pass-catching threats during their playoff run.