One of the bigger priorities for the Ravens offense this bye week is to figure out how to still be successful via the air if opponents put the clamps on wide receiver John Brown.
There’s no doubt that Brown has been Baltimore’s most explosive offensive player this season. Teams have been giving him extra attention and challenging other Ravens to step up.
The Ravens’ running game hasn’t hit any big plays and ranks 31st in yards per carry. Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV have done their part, but neither has made splash plays during the three-game losing streak.
That leaves Baltimore’s tight ends as an area where the Ravens will likely look to for more production in the second half, and the two rookies, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, both look ready for the job.
“I think Baltimore is going to be really excited about having Mark and Hayden as part of the Ravens here,” Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman said.
As a first-round pick, there were lofty expectations for Hurst. Despite tight end being one of the more difficult positions to transition from college to the pros, Hurst appeared in training camp and the preseason to be ready to immediately contribute.
A stress fracture in his foot tabled that progress, however, and has contributed to a sluggish first half for Hurst. He missed the first four games of the season and has caught just four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in the five since.
“It took a little while to knock the rust off and the tempo picks up in the regular season as compared to the preseason. It’s taken a few weeks, but I’m happy with where I’m at right now,” Hurst said.
“I just have to remain patient. Keep doing what I’m doing in practice. When I practice at my tempo and I’m able to play fast, it opens up things in the game. If I stay patient, it will come.”
Roman sees the same, saying the foot injury put Hurst “behind the eight ball.”
“I do feel the film shows that he has worked through that – whatever you want to call it – adjustment period,” Roman added. “We’re starting to see now him letting it loose, so to speak. He feels it too.”
Andrews has picked up the slack and has become a major part of the offense already. He saw six targets, including two in the red zone, in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. Andrews hauled in three passes for 50 yards.
Andrews is fourth on the team in receiving yards (244) and has two touchdowns. His 11.6 yards per catch is third behind Brown (17.7) and Hurst (14.3).
Andrews is still striving to be more of an all-around tight end and help more in the blocking game, but he’s delivering on his reputation as a reliable receiving weapon. Yet, he feels he can do more.
“I’ve always been a guy that is very good at running routes and getting open,” Andrews said. “What I’m doing out here, getting open and catching balls, is not surprising. I was confident in that.
“For me, it’s all about contributing. I feel like I’m doing a good job of that right now. I feel like I can do more and make more of an impact. Hopefully, moving forward, I will.”
The Ravens have made Maxx Williams inactive the past couple games. Roman said Hurst and Andrews could see more reps on the field together moving forward, which could really boost Baltimore’s passing attack.
“You have to continue developing the young guys,” Roman said. “You have to put them in situations that are a little bit tough at times too, to expand their skillset, to reach that point. The only way to do it is to go out and play. So their time is increasing, but we feel great about everybody we have as well.”