OWINGS MILLS — Late in practice Thursday, as the Ravens worked through an end-of-game situation, Hayden Hurst recognized a defensive breakdown.
The second-year tight end got behind the secondary and hauled in a 70-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline from quarterback Lamar Jackson, easily the longest reception of camp to date.
“It was cover-zero, it was a two-minute situation. We have to have points,” Hurst said. “[It was] a little bit of a busted coverage. I saw ‘T.J.’ [Tony Jefferson] kind of sink, and the right side of the field opened up, and I just took off and Lamar found me.”
The 2018 first-round draft pick seems to be regaining the form he flashed last training camp before a foot injury sidelined him for the season’s first four games. Hurst had a screw inserted into his surgically-repaired foot and never fully regained the comfort he had during the preseason.
“Right now, I feel really good. 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. 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,” he said. “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.”
Hurst came into training camp almost 20 pounds heavier than his playing weight from last season. He is more confident in his grasp of the playbook and has further strengthened the chemistry with his fellow 2018 first-round pick under center.
In 12 games, Hurst caught only 13 passes for 163 yards and a single touchdown – far from the break-out season he hoped for.
Baltimore’s third-round pick from the same draft, tight end Mark Andrews, had a vastly different rookie year. He set a Ravens’ rookie record for tight ends with 34 receptions, recording 552 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Andrews immediately became Jackson’s go-to guy.
“We came in together, and we’ve been through a lot of the same things. I think the way we think about football and how I run routes and what he’s seeing on the field is super similar,” Andrews said Thursday. “In terms of quarterbacks, he’s probably the quarterback I’ve had the most chemistry with right away. It’s fun to play with him, and it’s kind of cool to see how we kind of think alike, in terms of routes and him throwing the ball.”
Tight ends coach Bobby Engram complimented Andrews’ ability to improvise to get open.
“With Mark specifically, we’re giving him some routes where he has a little bit of freedom in terms of his creativity to get open. He’s catching the ball fairly well,” Engram said. “He’s a good, savvy route-runner. He understands defenses and he’s playing fast. Also, Hayden [Hurst] is showing his speed. He’s showing some different things at the line of scrimmage that are allowing him to run and get down the field.
“The whole entire group is working hard in both phases.”
The group included fifth-year Delaware product Nick Boyle, who signed a new three-year contract with the Ravens this offseason.
“I think all three of us do things extremely well. I think we’re going to make it hard on the coaches to take us off the field. We’re out there making plays,” Hurst said. “Whether it’s Nick, whether it’s Mark, whether it’s myself. You guys see us: we’re all over the field making catches. It’s really fun to be in this offense, especially to be a tight end.”
Expect to see the trio on the field at the same time this year. The Ravens promoted Greg Roman from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator following last season and immediately created an offense unlike any other in the league centered around Jackson’s unique skillset. The new leader of the offense, along with the quarterback, like to get tight ends involved.
“I knew when they named ‘G-Ro’ OC, it was going to be tight end-oriented because of what he did in San Francisco and what he’s done here. He puts a lot of emphasis on that position,” Hurst said. “We’re asked to do so many different things, whether we’re spread out, whether we’re bunched up, whether it’s two tight end or three tight end sets, there’s so much focal point put on the tight ends in this offense. It’s really fun to be a tight end here.”
Engram shifted from wide receivers coach to tight ends upon Roman’s promotion.
“I call them big wide receivers that block,” he said. “There’s a lot of learning and studying going on. Our offensive coordinator [Greg Roman], he knows a thing or two about coaching the tight ends. [Assistant tight ends coach] Andy Bischoff, who’s in the room, he’s coached Pro Bowl tight ends. I’ve had the knowledge and the wisdom of some guys that have done extremely well as tight ends coaches.”
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