The timing couldn't have been much worse for offensive tackle James Hurst when he broke his left leg during North Carolina's bowl game in late December.
As a senior last season, Hurst was projected by draft analysts to land in either the second or third round, until he got hurt. Because of the injury, Hurst could not play in the Senior Bowl or participate in the NFL scouting combine. And he still wasn't 100 percent by his pro day workout this spring.
If not for that unfortunate set of circumstances, Hurst probably would have been drafted instead of being signed to a free-agent deal by the Ravens this week.
The 6-foot-5 300-pound player chose the Ravens over 17 competing offers, largely because the Ravens didn't draft an offensive tackle. Now, Hurst is set to practice with no restrictions at the Ravens' rookie minicamp Friday and Saturday. He's scheduled to play left tackle initially, with the idea that he'll eventually compete at right tackle against 2013 fifth-round pick Rick Wagner.
"Obviously, this is a great opportunity," Hurst said during a telephone interview after signing with the Ravens. "Not being drafted was a disappointment, but signing with a great organization is very exciting. It's all new and I'm learning a lot. It's pretty awesome.
"My leg feels great. I'm finally 100percent now. I'm really moving around well, and I'm doing everything and I'm not limited. I think that surprised some people. I'm excited to just keep getting better."
Before the injury, Hurst had a run of success from his days as a blue-chip recruit growing up in Indianapolis who chose to attend North Carolina after receiving scholarship offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida and Georgia.
Hurst became the starting left tackle by the second game of his true freshman season, earning freshman All-America honors. He started a school-record 49 games and was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team the past two years.
"I got a lot of experience, specifically from having two different coaching staffs with two different offenses," Hurst said. "That helped me grow my blocking skills and take to an offense more readily and different coaching styles. I'm just trying to use that to my advantage now as I try to learn the Ravens' playbook. I pride myself on my footwork, having good feet and just try to get into a good blocking position."
Hurst's draft stock probably reached its peak when he effectively blocked South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last August.
Hurst held his own against Clowney, reacting quickly to counteract the pass-rushing moves of the eventual top overall pick of the Houston Texans and limited him to three tackles and zero sacks.
Hurst said his confidence got a major boost from his performance against Clowney.
"I think that game meant a lot with Clowney being such a talent and such a good player," Hurst said. "It gave me an opportunity to show teams what I can do and that I can compete with people like that. It showed me what I needed to work to get comfortable in my pass blocking set. It was kind of a preview of the kind of athletes you'll face in the NFL."
Hurst said the injury was definitely a frustrating experience, but emphasized that he's learned a lot from the adversity he went through.
"Looking back, it is a disappointment, but there's nothing you can do about an injury like that," he said. "It was a speed bump. I'm where I'm at right now and I think this is a great situation from what I understand about the opportunity at tackle. No matter what, you still have to make the team whether you were a draft pick or if you go undrafted like me."
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