Ravens Sign Shiancoe But Dickson is Likely Next Man Up
Today, the Ravens announced the signing of former Giants, Vikings and Patriots tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe, to help ease the burden of losing Dennis Pitta for the 2013 season. According to the Baltimore Sun, Shiancoe signed a one-year standard deal for the veteran minimum of $940,000
Losing Pitta in late July is certainly better than losing him in October but losing arguably the team's most reliable pass catcher, especially after trading Anquan Boldin away during the offseason, is not a good scenario for the Ravens.
However, the Ravens have proved in the past that they can indeed overcome the misfortune of injuries and players losses. The next man up philosophy is a belief that Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has always preached and is always prepared for. Whether it’s injury or player defections, Newsome has proven in the past that his way of fielding a team is as good, if not the best way in the NFL.
Newsome was not a week into free agency this past March before he lost five starters from the Ravens championship defense of last season and by the time free agency slowed to a crawl, seven starters were gone. Now, his team isn’t a week into training camp and the injury bug has hit hard with Pitta going down.
What will Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell do you ask. —well, there are several possibilities. Newsome obviously had some kind of plan for Shiancoe because he was standing on the sidelines Friday watching practice, which was the day before Pitta injured his hip.
Shiancoe will not be the sole answer but he will help. A local product, Shiancoe is a former Morgan State standout and he has played parts of 10 NFL seasons. He last appeared in four games with the New England Patriots during the 2012 season. Drafted by the New York Giants in the third round (91st overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft, the 6 feet 4, 250-pound native of Laurel, Maryland has 243 career catches for 2,677 yards and 27 touchdowns. His best seasons in the NFL were with the Minnesota Vikings from 2007 to 2011. Shiancoe played 80 games for the Vikings and had 207 catches for 24 touchdowns. In 2009, Shiancoe caught 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns in helping lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. Both the receptions and touchdown numbers were career-highs.
According to those familiar with the team’s offensive plans for 2013, Caldwell was planning to go back to using more two-TE sets. According to Pro Football Outsiders, the Ravens used three-WR sets on 45 percent of their plays in 2012, up from 28 percent in 2011. Their use of multiple tight ends dropped from 16 percent during that time. The Ravens were hoping that Pitta’s progression would allow them to take advantage of his ability to create mismatches by lining up in the slot and finding the soft spots in the coverage, the spaces that Anquan Boldin often worked out of and created last season.
According to Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun, this belief was further solidified when the Ravens parted ways with fullback Vonta Leach. Vensel wrote today, with Pitta out, the Ravens might have to go in another direction offensively. They could stick with the script from last year and work out of three-WR sets, but that would require Tandon Doss or Deonte Thompson to step up and fill the void created by the loss of Boldin and then Pitta. On the other hand, the Ravens could go the other way and use more two-RB sets in their 21 personnel, but that would require the Ravens having total faith in rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk as their lead blocker – or the team could re-sign Leach.
The Ravens may also exercise their organizational philosophy of next man up and believe that TE Ed Dickson will rebound from a down year last season. Dickson is the likely candidate to replace Pitta with Shiancoe or Billy Bajema lining up where Dickson did last season.
For starters, Dickson is due for a good year after less than 250 receiving yards and no touchdowns in 2012. The Ravens liked Dickson more than Pitta in the draft in 2010, as they selected him in the third round (70th overall), one round earlier than Pitta. Dickson is a good athlete who has shown he is capable of stepping up big time for the Ravens.
In college, he played in 52 games and started the final 39 games of his collegiate career for the Oregon Ducks. Dickson finished his career with 124 catches for 1,557 yards (12.6 avg.) and 12 TDs, which ranks first in both receptions and receiving yard among TEs in Oregon history. He was named a consensus first-team All-Pac-10 selection and was selected as a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, as the nation’s top TE.
His development in the NFL lagged behind Pitta’s but he is certainly fast enough to run vertical routes up the seams and explosive enough to make tough catches on outside-breaking deep routes. He ran a 4.59 40 at the draft combine, and comes from Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense. Dickson’s speed is not something you typically find in a 6'4 target but If Dickson can play to his 2011 form, he can help the Ravens minimize the loss of Pitta for the season. The scouting report on Dickson coming out of college has pretty much remained the same in the NFL.
He was touted as being a player that was athletic and quick with good hip fluidity, who makes impressive cuts and has very good body control. They said he would use his long arms to catch the ball away from his body while showing ability to make the difficult grab. Ravens fans saw a lot of this in 2011 when he compiled 528 receiving yards while catching five touchdowns.
Pitta was able to progress past Dickson because he developed route-running ability better than Dickson did. Pitta became almost masterful at times on third down and in the red zone at finding the soft spots in the intermediate coverage last season. All you need to see is his touchdown in the AFC Championship game, which he duplicated in the Super Bowl. Coming out of Oregon, Dickson was criticized for his lack of run blocking ability and that is still in an issue, which is another reason the Ravens may be on the phone with Vonta Leach as this is being typed.
With his speed and flashes in 2011, it is likely that the Ravens will give Dickson to become the next man up and stick to their plan this season using Dickson, Billy Bajema and the newly signed Visanthe Shiancoe in the two-tight-end sets. One sign to watch for on what the Ravens offensive adjustment will be is if they sign one of the veteran wide receivers remaining on the market in the next few days. If they do so before playing a preseason game or making it through 10 days of training camp, look for the switch back to the three wide receiver philosophy.
Whatever they do, it will not be a decision made by the seat of their pants. Shiancoe watching from the sidelines on Friday further illustrates my point that this is a franchise always prepared with a plan B and plan c when it matters. The Ravens front office, run by Newsome is not just one of the best in football; it is one of the best in all of sports.
While this is an unfortunate injury to Pitta and will set back the Ravens offense a bit, I see no reason or have never been given any indication this team will not regroup and recover.
They say the Ravens were lucky a lot during their Super run last season and that may be true– but luck is what happens when preparation meats hard work and this is a franchise that you cannot deny does both very well. They got lucky with the timing of the Pitta injury but they will work hard and prepare to move on without him, as the next man up takes his place on the 2013 Ravens, whoever that turns out to be.