In the Ravens’ preseason, James Hurst’s primary assignment was filling in for six-time Pro Bowl player Marshal Yanda (shoulder surgery) at his customary right guard spot, and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. started four of five exhibition games at right tackle.
But when the team’s depth chart was released Tuesday, Hurst — not Brown — was listed as the starting right tackle for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I anticipated being a player that’s on the team, to be a contributor — whatever that was,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Hurst said before Thursday’s practice. “In the preseason, we had a lot of shuffling going on — whether it was waiting for Marshal to come back or moving young guys around. So I was always preparing to be a starter. The position at the time in the preseason was pretty undetermined, I would say, because of injuries and shuffling around a little bit. But you’ve played before, and you’ve got some experience at a few different positions. So you just draw back on that and gain your confidence from that and these practices and improve every day. That’s all you can really focus on.”
The 6-8, 345-pound Brown — the first of the organization’s two third-round draft choices in April and the son of the late Orlando Brown, who played for the Ravens — said the decision does not bother him.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I’m just working each and every day. My focus is on me and getting better and providing as much depth and understanding my role on the team as much as possible.”
Hurst, 26, is entering his fifth season since the team signed him as an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina, and his familiarity with the offense swayed offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“Well, the experience part certainly,” Mornhinweg said when asked what factors led to Hurst’s ascent. “James is a heck of a player, and Orlando is coming. Orlando had just an outstanding preseason and training camp. So Orlando is ready to go. Now that preparation is going to be key for him. James is a heck of a player, and Orlando is on the [rise].”
Hurst, who had started 16 games at left and right tackle in his first three seasons, started all 16 games a year ago at left guard after Alex Lewis was sidelined in the preseason by a torn labrum in his left shoulder. After re-upping with the Ravens in March for $17.5 million over the next four years, Hurst faced a challenge from Brown.
“There’s no hard feelings toward Orlando or any other position on the team,” he said. “It’s part of the business we’re in, and it motivates everyone. It makes sure everyone stays on top of their game, doing everything they can to be the best they can be.”
Brown said the demotion has not affected his morale.
“These are guys who have been in the system here for two to three years,” he said. “I’m still learning. There are still some words and some plays that I still have no idea what they are. But I try not to make the same mistake twice, and I try to continue to grow as a player.”
Mornhinweg emphasized Brown will be expected to be ready for games in the event he might be forced into action. Asked whether he has any concerns about Brown losing confidence, Mornhinweg replied: “Absolutely not. We’re ready to go. We’ve talked about that certain mentality. We’re ready to go, and everybody has a role to play, and that role can change very quickly in this league. So all hands on deck. Everybody is ready to go.”