The Baltimore Ravens suffered their first significant injury of training camp on Monday, when it was reported that third-year tight end Dennis Pitta had broken his hand, an injury that will require surgery and result in him missing the rest of training camp and all four preseason games.
In fact, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh isn't entirely certain Pitta will be ready for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, which is six weeks away.
Though it's only camp, Pitta's broken hand is still a major blow to the Ravens' offense. This was supposed to be the year for Pitta to really break out, and though he still could, losing the entirety of training camp and the preseason is never of benefit to any player.
This is doubly so for Pitta this year. A huge focus of this year's Ravens training camp is to get the passing game on track. Reports have been glowing about Joe Flacco's performance thus far (he scored four touchdowns on a red zone drill on Monday), but he needs time to work with every one of his potential targets in order for the passing offense to be firing on all cylinders when the regular season begins.
And Pitta was going to figure heavily into that offensive attack. Last year, he flashed the kind of skill that he's hoped to further display this season, catching 40 of the 56 passes thrown his way for 405 yards and three scores.
He and Ed Dickson were one of two tight end tandems who each caught at least 40 passes last year, second only to the New England Patriots' duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Both Dickson and Pitta shined in 2011 after both taking a backseat to longtime starter Todd Heap in their 2010 rookie seasons. And while Dickson was the more-targeted of the two last season, Pitta has proven the more reliable, with great hands and excellent route-running discipline.
With the Ravens traditionally not taking full advantage of their No. 3 receivers, a heavy focus on tight end passing has been an effective way to bring more variety to the passing game. But now, with Pitta sidelined, a lesser talent will have to take his place in camp.
Lining up alongside Dickson for the remainder of training camp will be veteran Davon Drew and undrafted rookies Bruce Figgins and Matt Balasavage. Pitta's in no danger of losing a roster spot to any of these players, but missing this much practice may limit his involvement once he's ready to return during the regular season.
Pitta's injury, even if it doesn't keep him out in Week 1, is significant enough to affect his readiness for the beginning of the season. This means that the Ravens will have to change direction somewhat while he gets back into shape.
The first three games of the year are going to be difficult tests for the Ravens, as they host the Bengals in Week 1, travel to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 and then host the team that defeated them in last year's AFC Championship game, the New England Patriots, in Week 3.
Clearly, Baltimore would prefer all of their offensive weapons to be ready to take the field and play at a high level, but instead they may have to face these formidable opponents without both of their playmaking tight ends at their disposal.
There's more to worry about in regard to the regular season than in training camp and the preseason when it comes to Pitta's injury. It's a disappointment that he cannot participate right now, but it will be more damaging to the Ravens should he miss games or have to be eased back into the offense come September.