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Rookie Hayden Hurst Has Come an 'Incredibly' Long Way. Now He Wants to Show It

Remember the Ravens' other first-round pick that will make his NFL (preseason) debut tomorrow?

In addition to first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson's much-hyped unveiling, tight end Hayden Hurst will suit up for the first time Thursday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

The Ravens need Hurst to develop into an impact playmaker quickly, and Thursday's game will be the first indication of how soon that can happen.

"Just excited to get out there and compete," Hurst said. "Not so much nerves, but excitement. It's a new chapter in my life that I'm starting – my first NFL game. It's preseason, but it's still important to me. I want to start on a good note."

It's been an up-and-down start to camp for the South Carolina product. He missed a couple practices early in training camp because of a soft-tissue issue, which set him back a bit. But he's been on the field for more than a week since.

"Just annoying for me," Hurst said. "It was a little nagging injury, but it's gone now and I'm 100 percent. The competitor in me got a little [ticked] off I guess, but I'm back 100 percent now, so there's no looking back."

Hurst is the Ravens' best all-around tight end. Veterans Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are both reliable pass-catchers, but their strengths are blocking. Fellow Ravens rookie tight end Mark Andrews, a third-round selection who is primarily a receiver, has missed seven straight practices.

Thus, Hurst needs to prove that he can be an important weapon in the passing game for quarterback Joe Flacco. Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Benjamin Watson led the Ravens in receptions each of the past two seasons, respectively, and Baltimore will lean heavily on its tight ends yet again.

So far, Hurst has been happy with the progress he's made in training camp.

"There's so much that I continue to work on daily; I'm never going to be perfect," he said. "But from where I was when I first got here to now, it's incredible how far I've gotten."

Hurst said he's specifically made advancements in better understanding defenses. That's not surprising considering he's still relatively new to the game after he first followed a path to a baseball career. Hurst said he has a good feel for getting open in zone coverage, but wants to improve in one-on-one situations.

"At this level, guys just don't mess up," Hurst said. "They're always where they're supposed to be and you have to be really good in man coverage to get open.

"Running sharper routes, getting open for Joe, I think that's my biggest thing right now – just getting open. Understanding leverages, how to get open in spots where I need to be open to help this offense."

Hurst said there was a noticeable difference in game speed between offseason camps and training camp when the pads come on. Now it will be yet another step up in competition when facing another team.

So what does a successful first preseason game look like for Hurst?

"No mental errors," Hurst said. "I want to go out there and understand all the play calls and feel comfortable so I can play fast."

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