“I want to make every single play,” he said this week. “I want to make every block. Sometimes it’s not realistic. I like to set my goals high.”
People within and outside the organization had similar expectations after the team selected the 6-foot-4, 245-pound South Carolina product with the first of two first-round choices in April’s NFL draft. His 100 career catches are a Gamecocks record for tight ends, and his 1,281 receiving yards rank second.
But a stress fracture in his foot forced the 25-year-old Hurst to undergo surgery Aug. 24 and sit out the first four games of the season. He caught one pass for seven yards in his NFL debut at the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 7 but has not made a reception in games against the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. He played 21 snaps in Cleveland before dropping to 18 each against Tennessee and New Orleans.
While blaming himself for not getting Hurst more involved, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg noted that rookie tight ends have had a longer adjustment period to the NFL.
“We ask tight ends – I know we do, and most teams in this league – to block like a tackle, to run routes and adjust to coverage and catch the ball like a receiver, and then when they do catch it, catch and run like a runner, and then the pass protection,” Mornhinweg said. “So we ask so much of the tight ends in this league, that in many cases in college they’re not asked to do. So you’re right, some, much of it is experience and reps.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who seemed to develop a rapport with Hurst in the preseason, said the injury hindered their development.
“It’s tough when you come in a few weeks into the season, and we’ve game-planned four or five weeks at this point,” he said. “So to try to incorporate him back in, in a good way, isn’t always the easiest thing to do. He’s ready to go. It’s just about getting on the ball, getting that confidence going in his head and everybody else’s, and once that happens, we’ll just start rolling with it.”
Hurst remains optimistic that he will be more productive in the remaining nine games of the regular season, and he already has a checklist toward that goal. He ticked off:
“The more confidence the coaches can have in me in practice when they put plays in,” he said. “For me to go run them fast and not mess up assignments and not have mental errors.
“The more confidence the coaches are going to have in me, the more confidence they’re going to have to put me in game situations.”