The 2012 season answered the Ed Dickson vs. Dennis Pitta conundrum in Baltimore. The two tight ends were drafted in the third and fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, respectively, but unlike the Aaron Hernandez-Rob Gronkowski pairing in New England, the two have yet to form a symbiotic relationship. Heading into 2012, it was unclear how targets would be divvied up, but from Week 1 forward Pitta was the man. Dickson was not targeted more than five times in any game until Week 16, when the Ravens rested starters in preparation for the playoffs. During the regular season, Pitta garnered 93 targets from Joe Flacco for 61 receptions, compared to 33 and 21 for Dickson.
Pitta's presence in the passing game is only expected to get stronger. Reports out of minicamp say that Pitta is currently Flacco's favorite target. It helps that the two are best friends off the field, and that Anquan Boldin's defection to San Francisco should open up even more targets for a sure-handed intermediate threat. Perhaps most importantly, Jim Caldwell is entering his first full year as offensive coordinator. That's the same Jim Caldwell that oversaw the Peyton Manning-Dallas Clark connection in Indianapolis, one of the greatest quarterback-tight end tandems the game has ever seen.
After five seasons of moderate success stifled by nagging injuries, Clark came alive in 2008, catching 77 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns. That season, Caldwell was named the Colts' head-coach-in-waiting, and when Tony Dungy retired in January, Caldwell officially took over the team. Clark responded in 2009 with one of the best-ever seasons by a tight end, catching 100 passes for 1,106 yards and ten touchdowns. Up to that season, Tony Gonzalez had been the only tight end in NFL history to eclipse 100 receptions when he caught 102 passes in 2004. Clark had just 37 receptions in 2010 before being placed on injured reserve in October due to a wrist injury, but Jacob Tamme picked up the slack with 67 receptions, 631 yard and four touchdowns.
If we ignore the disaster that was the 2011 Colts, there is a strong trend of tight ends thriving under Caldwell. Whether Pitta is in store for a Clark-like emergence remains to be seen, but Flacco is a good, tall, strong-armed Manning corollary and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will likely give Caldwell free reign to run the offense. After all, Harbaugh rode with Cam Cameron and his sometimes drastically shifting week-to-week game plans for almost four seasons.
Pitta's star has been on a steady rise since entering the league, and all signs point to a potential coming-out season in 2013. Even in a league that has become tight-end-happy in recent years, Flacco and Pitta could be fashioning themselves as one of the best tandems in some time.