JAMES HURST – FROM UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT TO STARTING ROLE WITH RAVENS
Talk to coaches and they will tell you that the best way to maintain a cohesive offensive line is to stay in a constant state of developing young players, not only through coaching but to have them mentored by veterans.
The Ravens have a classic example of that formula in guard/tackle James Hurst.
Hurst was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He played college football at North Carolina.
Since then, the 6-foot-5, 317 pounder has worked his way up the ladder to where he is listed as the starting left guard according to Ourlads’ NFL Scouting Services. But that could change.
Hurst has not missed a game in the three years since he made the team. He has been able to fill in at both the guard and tackle positions and held his own. He has also played some center, mostly in practice. Hurst was trusted by his coaches to start in 16 of the 48 games he has played in.
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Marty Mornhinweg talked about what he likes about the 25 year old.
“James Hurst is a good football player,” Mornhinweg after a training camp practice. “And he is a versatile football player. He most likely if asked, could play, really, anywhere across the line.”
Head coach John Harbaugh after an open practice at Ravens stadium, also praised Hurst’s varied skill set on the line plus his football IQ.
“James, he is a versatile player,” Harbaugh said. “That is one of the things about James. He is very smart. He has the kind of athletic ability to play inside or outside; he can really move his feet. He wants to do it, and he is excited about it,
so let’s roll.”
Hurst has been mentored by one of the all time best in future Hall of Fame offensive linemen Marshal Yanda.
Hurst talked about his impact on him since his rookie season.
“I lean on him a ton,” Hurst said after a training camp practice. “It’s a huge blessing to have someone like that in the room – just being able to watch film with him, watch him out at practice and how he goes through his drills. Everything he does is like he’s playing on Sunday. Having someone out there to look at, to talk to, to give you tips, and is able to watch you and coach you on the field, it’s a great blessing.”
Yanda had shoulders surgery in March and has had limited play during the spring and through training camp. Also John Urschel, a contender to start at center retired just hours before the team’s first training camp practice. Rookie fourth-round pick, guard Nico Siragusa suffered a knee injury at
the start of training camp.
Camp must go on, so the coaches pressed Hurst to literally fill in anywhere and everywhere during camp. Hurst was happy to oblige. A versatile NFL player is a long-term NFL player.
“It’s been a lot,” Hurst said. “We have a couple guys banged up; it’s training camp, it happens. Those guys will get healthy, and we’ll get them back out. Every practice you can go out there and work on things. Even though you’re switching positions, there are commonalities between positions. So, if you just go out there, focus on your technique, you’re going to pick up things, regardless of what position you’re at. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. We’ll get healthy and get after it.”
Hurst didn’t fall for the which-position-who-you-prefer question.
“I’m one of those guys who just wants to be out on the field,” he said. “I know that’s not what you’re looking for, but truly, I just want to play. We’re going to put the best five guys out there, and we’re going to be a unit and play together. Being an offensive line-man, that’s what we’re coached and that’s instilled in us from the day we start playing that position. So, when you go out there, you just want to play and be a part of that unit.”
Hurst was asked if shuffling all these players around because of injuries affects the cohesion on the offensive line.
“It does a little bit,” Hurst said. “Obviously, having different guys in there, communicating a bit differently, each guy is a little different. But, that’s when you have to put in a little extra time in the meetings, after practice, talking to each other and watching film together. That way, you can work out little kinks. When it comes
game time, it’s second nature.”
Players who are not drafted face an uphill climb. The ones who make it generally are those who show up with a chip on their shoulder. Hurst talked about how that helped him.
“I think it was about the confidence and knowing that it’s football,” Hurst said. “Going out there and playing in big games as a rookie can be overwhelming. But, having that experience under your belt and knowing at the end of the day it’s football helps. You go out there, do your thing, you practice with the guys you have been practicing with and just be confident and comfortable out there, not
worrying and wondering about a million different things.”
That focus has pushed Hurst right into the starting lineup. ■