About a year ago, Hayden Hurst was high-stepping his way into the end zone in a joint practice against the Los Angeles Rams. The first-round pick looked like he was on his way to a big rookie year.
Then, a few weeks later, Hurst injured his foot and went under the knife. The injury derailed Hurst’s rookie season, in which he played in 12 games and made just 13 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.
Fast forward, and Hurst says he’s back to that top form physically and ready to have a breakout sophomore season because of improvements in the mental side of the game.
“I feel a lot better than where I was at last year,” Hurst said. “My head was spinning a little bit last year, but everything is starting to slow down.”
Hurst made two big plays in Thursday’s practice, coming down with a juggling sideline catch and then a long touchdown on a busted coverage. Both highlighted, once again, what Hurst can offer with his unique blend of size and speed.
Ravens fans didn’t get much of a taste last season because Hurst sat out the first four games and by the time he returned, Mark Andrews was gobbling up much of the snaps and quarterback looks.
But this year, even though Andrews could be even more featured in Baltimore’s attack, Hurst will also see a lot more opportunities come his way. He says the biggest thing is understanding the playbook so coaches have the confidence to throw him into games.
“I feel like I’m making a lot of plays out there. I’m catching every ball that comes my way. I just go out there and do my job. I know what I’m capable of on a football field,” Hurst said.
“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. But preseason last year I was doing some pretty good things, and I’m starting to do that this year. I’m just going to stay on the field and do what I do.”
The South Carolina product is 17 pounds heavier than he was last season, putting him at 264 pounds, but he doesn’t feel he’s lost any of his speed. He also feels like he’s moving people better at the point of attack as a blocker.
Veteran Pass Rushers Are Starting to Stand Out
Much of the pundits’ concern about the Ravens’ defense centers on the pass rush, but the two veterans Baltimore signed later in the offseason – Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray – are impressing in training camp.
Pernell McPhee caught Owner Steve Bisciotti’s attention at Saturday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium. Standing next to Head Coach John Harbaugh, Bisciotti noted how good McPhee looked on a rush off the left side.
“People talk about, ‘He’s getting older,’ and, ‘He can’t move.’ He can move. He can run,” Harbaugh said. “He looked really explosive. He looks good to me.”
“He’s the old guard, or the ‘OG,’ as the players say it, and you can see that power and that old Raven rough, tough mentality,” Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale added the next day. “He’ll help bring that along with that group. We’re excited about our potential pass-rushing.”
Ray missed the first day of training camp practice, but he was ready to go the next day and has looked fast off the edge. On Thursday, Harbaugh agreed with a reporter’s assessment that Ray looks more comfortable now.
“I feel like Shane is starting to get a feel for the defense and starting to get his legs under him a little more, and he looks good,” Harbaugh said.
If McPhee and Ray can get back to producing at the level they were at a couple years ago, it will greatly help the Ravens’ pass rush stay at a high level. McPhee posted 14 sacks with the Chicago Bears from 2015-2017 and Ray had eight sacks with the Denver Broncos in 2016.
Justice Hill’s Pass Protection Is Impressing Harbaugh
Everyone knew rookie running back Justice Hill was fast. So when he was difficult for Ravens linebackers to keep up with in one-on-one coverage drills Thursday, it wasn’t a surprise.
But what will help Hill see more time on the field is if he can be trusted in pass protection, and that’s what Harbaugh has noticed about the fourth-round pick, who stands in at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with, when the pads have been on, he’s looked solid in pass protection, which for a little bit of a smaller back is something you always concern yourself with,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said he'll have a better feel for the growth of the Ravens' young running backs once the team practices and plays against other teams, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars beginning next week.
Check out the on-field action from Day 6 at Ravens training camp.