Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst has gone the past two games without catching a pass.
Hurst liked shutouts when he was a minor league baseball pitcher, but being blanked on the stat sheet is not what Hurst has in mind as the Ravens' top pick in the draft (25th overall), the first tight end selected.
After a strong training camp and preseason, Hurst's progress was derailed by a foot stress fracture in August that required surgery. Hurst missed the first four games and has caught just one pass for seven yards in three games since returning.
"I think it's just a little speed bump in hopefully what's going to be a pretty good career for me," Hurst said.
Hurst says the foot injury is no longer a factor and he looks forward to making more of an impact as he adjusts to NFL football. The speed of the game, Hurst said, has been the biggest adjustment.
"Just playing fast, understanding the play call," Hurst said. "Getting in there running the routes quick, not really hesitating. Getting in the spot where Joe (Flacco) wants me to be. When I'm able to play fast, I feel like that's kind of where I separate myself as a tight end. Understanding the play book further is going to help me play even faster."
The Ravens are dressing four tight ends, so Hurst must capitalize on opportunities. His most recent chance came late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, when he didn't secure a Flacco pass with three minutes, 35 seconds left and the Ravens trailing 21-17. It was a key second-down play from the New Orleans 36-yard line, and it would have given the Ravens a first down in the red zone. Instead, the Ravens turned the ball over on downs two plays later and eventually lost, 24-23.
Saints cornerback Ken Crawley made a strong play on the ball to break up the pass, but Hurst got his hands on the football and said he should have caught it.
"I broke stride a little bit, didn't really feel the corner come off on me," Hurst said. "It's a tough play. Any ball that's thrown my way I want to make the catch. A little disappointed in myself. Normally I don't really drop stuff. I think the corner just came across and made a pretty good play on it, punched directly on the ball. It was just unfortunate, but hopefully some more balls will come my way."
Flacco blamed himself for the incompletion, throwing a pass that had too much loft and allowing Crawley to close on it.
"I didn't throw the ball well enough," Flacco said.
Hurst is trying to remain positive, but admits he is hard on himself.
"The quicker I can turn the page and focus on the next week will be better for me," Hurst said. "But I am a bit of a perfectionist. I want to make every single play, I want to make every block. Sometimes that's not realistic, but I like to set my goals high."
Flacco expressed confidence that Hurst would break out soon.
"It has to happen at some point," Flacco said. "I think he's progressing. It's a shame the way it has worked out, with him getting hurt the way he has, but he's a good player. At this point, it's just about getting him involved, getting the confidence going and all of that.
"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. To try to incorporate him back in, in a good way, isn't always the easiest thing to do. He's ready to go, just about getting that confidence going in his head and everybody else's, and once that happens, we'll just start rolling with it."
C.J. Mosley Wants to Prove Himself Opposite Panthers' Luke Kuechly
C.J. Mosley and Luke Kuechly, two of the NFL's best inside linebackers, will be on opposite sidelines Sunday. Mosley isn't a player who watches linebackers on other teams closely, but there are times he can't help but pay attention to Kuechly.
"He does enough where I see his highlights, trust me," Mosley said. "He's all over the field. When you're a four-down linebacker, making great plays in the coverage and run game, you don't really have to watch a lot of film to see it. He's always going to be around the football."
Mosley said he got to know Kuechly a little better during the offseason when they attended some of the same events.
"I'm pretty sure it's mutual respect," Mosley said.
In 2015, Kuechly signed a five-year contract extension that reportedly increased his annual salary to $12.4 million, making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. Mosley is in the fifth and final year of his contract and can become a free agent following the season.
Mosley was asked if he wants to prove Sunday that he's worth Kuechly money.
"Yeah, pretty much," Mosley said with a chuckle. "That was three years ago, but time has come. That's about as much as I'll say about that.
"He definitely set the bar high. Hopefully I can keep that bar going. You always want to see your position do well, because at the end of the day, if you're doing well, it helps you out more."
However, Mosley's primary objective Sunday is to help the Ravens rebound from their Week 7 loss. Mosley leads Baltimore's top-ranked defense (scoring and yards per game) and is tied for the team lead in tackles, but has yet to notch a sack or interception yet this season.
"At the end of the day, you'd love to get those individual stats," Mosley said. "They look good on paper, but as long as the defense is doing well and the team is doing well, that's all that matters. You can have 20 interceptions in a season, but if you're not playing in the playoffs, it really doesn't matter."
Ravens Know to Be Wary of Former Ravens WR Torrey Smith
Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith has only faced the Ravens once since he departed Baltimore, and he made them pay.
That was in 2015, when Smith joined the San Francisco 49ers after spending his first four NFL seasons (2011-14) with the Ravens. Smith helped defeat Baltimore, 25-20, catching three passes for 96 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown completion from Colin Kaepernick.
Since leaving Baltimore, Smith has gone to San Francisco, then Philadelphia, where he won a second Super Bowl last year, and now to Carolina. He hasn't had the same individual success he had in Baltimore, and has 16 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns in six games played this season.
The Ravens know Smith is still capable of making big plays, something they will be prepared for Sunday.
"He's a guy that can definitely stretch the field," Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said. "He still has top-end speed. It comes down to us going out there and being who we are."
Smith remains close friends with Flacco, who hopes for a better outcome when the Ravens see Smith on Sunday.
"We have a lot of great memories with Torrey, but hopefully we'll make a good one for us this week, leave a bad taste in his mouth," Flacco said with a grin. "It's always good to see an old teammate and especially him. But once the game starts, that won't matter too much."
Herniated Disc Sent DT Willie Henry to Injured Reserve
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said defensive tackle Willie Henry is dealing with a herniated disc. Henry was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, but the Ravens could still reactivate him for the final game of the regular season and potentially the playoffs.
"He had a herniated disc issue that came up in the game (Sunday)," Harbaugh said. "We didn't know about it until the next day when he got it checked out and got the MRI – actually, I think Tuesday morning. So that's how that happened."
Henry must be inactive for at least eight games, meaning he could return no earlier than Week 17. The Ravens have two other players on injured reserve who could also return – running back Kenneth Dixon and cornerback Maurice Canady. Dixon cannot be activated until after Week 9, and Canady cannot be activated until at after Week 11. Teams can activate a maximum of two players off injured reserve during the same season.