Eugene Monroe sidelined with knee injury, rookie James Hurst to start in his place

The Baltimore Sun

Days after Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe was barely able to hobble back to the huddle against the Cleveland Browns, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to address the issue.

Although Monroe isn’t expected to be sidelined for an extended period of time, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday Monroe won’t play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and could miss additional games.

With the left tackle situation having reached emergency status, Monroe will be replaced in the starting lineup by undrafted rookie James Hurst.

Harbaugh said the lineman would “be out for some number of weeks.”

“I don’t know how many,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think it’s going to be on the long end, but that’s something we are going to get cleaned up.”

Monroe was signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in March that included $19 million guaranteed, a large investment in the blocker entrusted with protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side. Now, that task falls to Hurst.

“To not have [Monroe] is going to be different, but it’s honestly something that I try not to pay too much attention to,” Flacco said. “I think Hurst is going to come in, fill in and do a great job. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

Hurst nearly played against the Browns on Sunday because Monroe was in obvious pain, and his mobility was hampered.

“It looked like I was going in several times,” said Hurst, a former freshman All-American at North Carolina who started at left tackle for four seasons. “I was ready to roll and do whatever I had to do to help the team out.”

Hurst started a school-record 49 games and was named an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection the past two years. He expressed confidence that he's ready to start his first NFL game.

“It's a unique situation, but excited about it,” Hurst said. “Everybody's got a lot of trust in me to do my job. It sounds simple, but obviously it’s a big task. [Carolina’s] front seven is the best in the NFL. It's going to be a challenge. In the NFL, you're going to be playing great guys every week. I'm looking forward to it. Becoming a better football player is attacking your weaknesses and understanding what you need to work on.”

The 6-foot-5, 308-pound tackle chose the Ravens over 18 competing offers from NFL teams. Hurst said he chose the Ravens’ offer, which included a $9,000 signing bonus, because they didn’t draft a tackle.

“It’s been a long journey, a lot of ups and downs, but mostly ups,” Hurst said. “Right now is an opportunity for me. I’m going to put in all the work that I can to be responsible for my job on Sunday.”

Hurst is known for his pass-blocking technique, but is regarded as somewhat undersized. Hurst was projected as a second-round to third-round draft pick before he broke his leg in a bowl game and was unable to play in the Senior Bowl all-star game or participate in the NFL scouting combine.

Hurst held Houston Texans outside linebacker and top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to three tackles and no sacks last season when the Tar Heels played South Carolina.

Hurst struggled to deal with bull-rushes during training camp, particularly from former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who regularly delivered powerful chest punches to drive the rookie backward. Since that time, Hurst has worked diligently to upgrade his skills.

“Absolutely, it was rough at first,” Hurst said. “All those outside linebackers we have to go against every day, they make it rough for you. At the end of the day, they make you a better player. So, I’ve been lucky to have them across from me and learning from them."

Left guard Kelechi Osemele said he believes in Hurst because of his strong work ethic and intelligence. Osemele added that he’s not surprised he isn’t being shifted over to left tackle because of Hurst’s preparations since being signed in May.

“I’m not really too worried about it,” Osemele said of Hurst. “His technique has always been on point and he’s always been a hard worker and is a consistent guy. So, it’s next man up. Obviously, it’s going to be a loss because Eugene’s a veteran and he’s a savvy guy, but, at the same time, we have to go out and execute like we always do.”

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