James Hurst learned in his first three seasons with the Ravens that he needs to be prepared for everything. As a reserve offensive tackle, he understood that at any moment, he could be summoned from the sideline and asked to block one of the league’s top pass rushers.
For him, change has been the norm, so the transition he is now making — moving from right tackle to left guard — isn’t all that daunting.
“I’ve had three seasons so far and I definitely haven’t had a boring one,” Hurst said after the Ravens practice Saturday morning at M&T Bank Stadium. “I feel like I’ve been all over the place — spot duty, start a few games in a row here or there. It’s definitely been a ride that’s unusual with twists and turns and this is just another one. Lucky I have some experience moving around. It’s another chance, but it’s a chance to go start and be reliable.”
Hurst, 25, has spent the first two weeks of training camp as the Ravens’ starting right tackle. He learned late last week that he’d have stiff competition for that job as the Ravens signed veteran Austin Howard, who got a three-year, $15.025 million deal, money befitting a starting tackle.
Just when it appeared that Hurst would again have to accept a reserve role, starting left guard Alex Lewis was pronounced out for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Hurst played left guard with the first team throughout Saturday’s practice and the team views him as the top internal option to replace Lewis.
“I just think he is a versatile player. That is one of the things about James,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He is very smart. He has the kind of athletic ability to play inside or outside; he can really move his feet. He wants to do it, and he’s excited about it, so let’s roll.”
Hurst called the assignment “a vote of confidence,” and said it’s up to him to prove the coaching staff is making the right decision. He has started 16 games over three seasons in his Ravens career, but they’ve all been at either left or right tackle. He did gain some experience playing guard last preseason.
“It’s bigger guys,” Hurst said about the challenge moving inside. “Obviously, they don’t have the speed edge rushers do, but they have way more power. It’s just a different game inside. There’s less space between you before the ball is snapped. Getting set, getting your feet on the ground, getting your hands on guys is important. It’s just subtle differences like that that will change the way I play.”
The former undrafted free agent out of North Carolina spent the offseason getting bigger and stronger. He didn’t do it with a position change in mind, but he thought it was something that needed to happen regardless.
“It just so happens [that] it’s going to pay off,” Hurst said.
As Hurst worked at left guard for the first time in camp, Howard manned the starting right tackle spot. He practiced for the first time since signing with the team Aug. 4. The Ravens held him out of practice for a few days to allow him to get some work in with the conditioning staff.
“I’ve been itching to get back out here. It was a great day today, a great day to get back out there and be with the team and just step on the field. So it was a good day,” Howard said. “Anybody is going to have a little rust. It’s just working through that and getting to know this offense and getting to know this team and getting to know the group I’ll be with.”