After enjoying more of a team mentality in college, first-year pros learn quickly during OTAs and minicamp that life in the NFL is spent mostly with your position groups.
The Ravens four first-year offensive lineman — fifth-round pick John Urschel, plus undrafted free agents James Hurst, Brett Van Sloten, and Parker Graham — began their pro development this year as a unit.
They know they could see their rookie group trimmed when the roster is dropped from 90 to 53 by the end of training camp, but have used this spring's team activities to learn the pro game together and improve their own game.
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“Those three guys are good guys, they’re hardworking guys,” Hurst said after minicamp Thursday. “We’ve been fortunate enough to all be in the same place. Obviously, we know that not all of us are going to make it. That’s just how the NFL works, but we’re out here pushing ourselves and pushing each other and making the most out of this opportunity we have.”
That opportunity is the chance to develop behind a veteran offensive line. As an undrafted player, Hurst seemed to understand his opportunity may have to come elsewhere. But throughout the spring, he and his rookie comrades got plenty of chances to grow and develop with the Ravens.
Urschel, Hurst, and Van Sloten all saw various roles throughout OTAs and into minicamp. Urschel, a Penn State product, has played primarily at guard, while Hurst, a two-time All-ACC tackle, has had reps with both the second and third team at tackle. On one drill, Hurst had to run the length of the field between reps and was greeted with a fist-bump from Urschel, his roommate and new friend.
Van Sloten, a two-year starter at Iowa, also saw reps at guard with multiple units during camp. Graham, an All-Big 12 lineman from Oklahoma State, missed mandatory minicamp with because of an undisclosed issue discovered in his physical. He did take part in OTAs.
The young linemen saw a jump in competition last week with the arrival of the Ravens’ veteran defensive players such as Terrell Suggs and Chris Canty, who lined up opposite the offense during minicamp.
“There’s a lot to learn, being so young and going against great outside linebackers, especially in pass protections,” Hurst said. “You’ve got Suggs, [Courtney] Upshaw, [Pernell] McPhee — those guys are real challenges, so it’s good to go out there every day to get that kind of battle and know that you’re blocking the best. It is a battle every day but you’ve got to come out here, get better and work on one thing every day.”
The future could hold major roles for the group, given the team’s willingness to allow players it develops—such as Rick Wagner at right tackle—a chance to earn starting roles.
But if the roster crunch doesn’t work out for the undrafted players, it shouldn’t take long for any of the talented bunch to catch on elsewhere.