Nick Boyle sleeper pick to fill Dennis Pitta void for Ravens

Releasing Pitta a business decision for Ravens (1:20)

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There's no question that tight end Nick Boyle is replacing Dennis Pitta for the Baltimore Ravens at the upcoming mandatory minicamp.

That's by default. Boyle is the only healthy, experienced tight end on the Ravens' roster right now.

But, come the Sept. 10 season opener in Cincinnati, Boyle is the sleeper pick to take over for Pitta, who was released this past week after re-injuring his right hip.

He's got size. He's got good hands. He's the best tight end on the Ravens who few outside of Baltimore know about.

"I think I can do it all," Boyle said. "I think I can do all those things -- blocking, catching the ball. Whatever they ask you to do, that is kind of what you want to go do. Whether it is block every time you are in there or run 100 routes, whatever they tell you to do, you come in and just go with it."

Boyle, a fifth-round pick in 2015, finds himself with a prime opportunity after enduring the worst stretch of his football life. He was suspended for the final four games of his rookie season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and he missed the first 10 games of last season for a second violation.

That led to some harsh words from coach John Harbaugh.

"If he continues to double down on dumb, he's going to be out," Harbaugh said at the NFL combine in February 2016.

Boyle has done more than keep his roster spot on the team. He is earning a bigger role on the offense.

This offseason, Boyle was running with the second team while Benjamin Watson (Achilles) and Maxx Williams (knee) recovered from surgeries and Darren Waller was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. But he jumped up to the starting lineup after Pitta fell to the ground and dislocated his hip on June 2.

"That is not the way I wanted it to happen," Boyle said. "He is a really good friend of mine, I feel really bad for him. But, naturally -- and it is out of your control -- it will give you more opportunities on the field to do whatever -- run, catch the ball, walk -- whatever they need you to do. I will have more opportunities to do that."

Boyle has a chance to stick at the top of the depth chart for a position filled with question marks. Watson is 36 and hasn't played a game since January 2016. Williams, Waller and Crockett Gillmore (who left Thursday's practice with an undisclosed injury) have struggled to stay healthy.

What Boyle has to prove is his ability as a pass-catcher. He's caught only 24 passes in his 17-game career, but the potential is there to have more of an impact this season. At a recent offseason practice, he made a nice touchdown grab in goal-line drills.

"Since coming here, I think I have improved a lot on my route running and everything," Boyle said. "There is still a lot to improve on, which we see every day and I get reminded of, but is definitely night and day from my rookie season until this year. I feel a lot more comfortable."

Boyle should get plenty of reps for mandatory minicamp. If Gillmore and Waller are sidelined, Boyle will be the only tight end from last year's team to suit up. The only other tight ends on the roster are Ryan Malleck and Barrett Burns, both of whom were signed by Baltimore this past week.

"Yes, you are going to get tired, and you want to make the most of your opportunities to show what you can do on the field," Boyle said. "You get tired, but the trade-off is to show the coaches what you can do on the field in all phases of the game."