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James Hurst Is Working to Fend Off an Addition, and He's Winning


It hadn't started raining yet, but James Hurst came off the practice field Friday drenched.

"Don't shake my hand; I'm soaked," he said. "And it's not water."

Hurst has been thrown into the fire this summer as the Ravens try to gauge whether he's ready to be their starting right tackle. So far, the answer is yes.

Ever since the Ravens lost Rick Wagner to the Detroit Lions in free agency, there has been media and fan chatter about signing or drafting a replacement. A few rounds of free agency and the draft have passed without any offensive line additions.

Meanwhile, Hurst has taken every rep with the first-team offense through Organized Team Activities, minicamp and now at the start of training camp. And he intends to keep it that way.

"If they bring someone in at your position, the assumption is I didn't get the job done," Hurst said Friday.

"Obviously, they can make moves any day, any time. It's pretty unpredictable, and they're just trying to put the best players out there too. I just want it to be me, and hopefully they want the same thing."

Hurst said he doesn't spend any time thinking about that possibility, as he shouldn't. All he is focused on is his preparation and how he performs on the practice field.

Hurst has received good feedback from his coaches, as they have gained confidence in his ability to be a full-time starter following three years as a backup.

"James Hurst has had a very good camp," Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said during minicamp. "He's going to be a consistent player. I'm comfortable with him."

"He is very coachable, he is accountable, he tries to do it exactly like we ask him to do, and he is getting nice results," Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris said that same day. "He got bigger, he got stronger. He is moving quickly. He is an intelligent young man. You put those combinations together, and you have a good football player."

The Ravens have counted on Hurst many times before. In 2014, he became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to start a playoff game at left tackle (he started two). Hurst started half of the team's games in 2015 and three last season. He has a collective 18 starts in three seasons under his belt – a lot for a backup.

Most of that action has been at left tackle, but Hurst started making the transition to the right side late last season. He started at right tackle in Week 17 against the Bengals and got strong grades from his coaches.

While Hurst hasn't gotten many high marks from Pro Football Focus, he gave up pressure on a lower percentage of his pass-blocking snaps (4.5 percent) last year than Wagner (5.6 percent). Hurst's biggest problem has been his strength, but he's improved that this offseason.

Hurst said he's gone from 305 or 310 pounds to 320. New Ravens Director of Performance Steve Saunders has helped transform Hurst's body.

"I needed to get stronger; that was one of my weaknesses," Hurst said. "You've still got to be able to move. Lucky for us, we've got some speed guys out there that will let you know real quick whether or not you can move."

Another big help to Hurst this season is that he's able to lock in on one position. While the switch from left to right tackle means flipping all his movements – which isn't easy, as Marshal Yanda attested to last year in switching guard spots – Hurst is getting the reps to make it work.

The next big test will be when the pads come on for the first time today.

"I'm feeling really good," Hurst said. "We have a long way to go, but it's definitely been a good start.

"It's always good to know where you are in the lineup and feel confident in your position. When the coaches are feeling confident in you, that's what you want. You want to be the guy they can count on, that your teammates can count on."

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