On Thursday morning, near the midpoint of a Ravens training camp where Mark Andrews has emerged as the team’s most dependable receiver, fellow tight end Hayden Hurst offered a reminder that he’s not to be overlooked.
Late in practice, the 2018 first-round draft pick scored on an approximately 70-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Lamar Jackson, the longest completion of camp. Hurst acknowledged afterward that the completion came against “a little bit of a busted coverage,” but it was a vivid reminder of his potential.
Even if Hurst seems unlikely to outproduce Andrews this season, he’s distancing himself from a debut year marred by an early-season stress fracture in his foot and limited production (13 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown in 12 games).
“I think you learn from the past, but you don’t dwell on it, so where he is right now, he’s in a great place,” tight ends coach Bobby Engram said Thursday. “He’s working hard. I think he’s really understanding the offense and what we want him to do. … I think in Year 2, that’s when he can make a big jump in that category. And obviously, with his speed and his physicality, in terms of him wanting to put on weight and just be stronger but not lose any speed, I think that’s going to help him in the pass game moving forward as well.”
Hurst said his “head was spinning a little bit last year,” and the game has slowed for him. He’s stronger, too, after beefing up to 264 pounds from 247 over the offseason.
“Right now, I feel really good,” he said. “I feel like I’m making a lot of plays out there. I’m catching every ball that comes my way, and I just go out there and do my job. I know what I’m capable of on a football field. I know when you get injured, you kind of get put by the wayside. And I totally get that. You’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. Preseason last year, I was doing some pretty good things, and I’m starting to do that this year.”
Frustration at left guard
The first rotation of first-team offensive linemen in 11-on-11 action Thursday featured Orlando Brown Jr. back at right tackle and rookie Ben Powers at left guard. The second rotation featured James Hurst at right tackle and Powers still at left guard.
Powers, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma, has been a fixture between left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Matt Skura throughout camp. That’s partly because of third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor’s suboptimal conditioning and partly because Hurst, as Harbaugh said, “knows how to play the position.” Hurst started at left guard for the Ravens over their final four regular-season games, as well as the team’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, in which he struggled greatly.
So, no, Powers hasn’t won the job. Far from it. Asked about his first-team reps there, Harbaugh was blunt: “We don’t have a starter there, and who would you want me to put in there? He’s the guy right now. Jermaine’s got to get in shape still more, and those guys are competing along with James Hurst.”
With one week until the Ravens’ first preseason game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and over a month before the regular season, Harbaugh knows the team has time — not only to tinker with its starting line, but also for hard lessons and tough love to sink in.
“You're always going to be working combinations anyway at this point in time,” he said. “You have to be prepared for every scenario during the season, all the different things that can happen in terms of where you have to shuffle your line around to get through, so you want those guys to get the bulk of those reps now during training camp.
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“There is no date [for establishing a starting line]. You’d like for it to happen naturally and to be clear. That’s what you’d like. You don’t want it to be clear because nobody’s taking the reins. You want somebody to take the reins.”