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Ravens top pick Hurst eager to contribute after foot injury

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

By DAVID GINSBURG

AP Sports Writer

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Having finally put a disappointing injury behind him, Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst is ready to launch a career worthy of a first-round draft pick.

Drafted 25th overall by a team that usually relies heavily on its tight ends, Hurst fully expected to be an immediate contributor.

He caught a touchdown pass in the preseason opener and seemed on his way to becoming a primary target for quarterback Joe Flacco. Then, on Aug. 20, the former South Carolina star broke his foot against Indianapolis.

"It was really hard because I felt like I was in a very good position," Hurst recalled Wednesday. "I was playing fast, getting in the flow of the offense, getting in rhythm with Joe. Then a freak accident. I'd never had a football injury before."

Hurst had a screw inserted in the foot and was inactive for the first month of the regular season. He returned in Cleveland on Oct. 7 and caught one pass for seven yards before getting blanked over the next two games.

At this point in a frustrating rookie season, Hurst is still learning the playbook, adjusting to the speed of the game and striving to re-earn Flacco's trust.

"I was a first-round pick. I want to be out there just as bad as people want to see me out there, trust me," Hurst said. "It's been a hard six weeks for me. But it's just a little speed bump, and it's going to be a pretty good career."

The Ravens (4-3), who play at Carolina (4-2) on Sunday, are counting on it.

General manager Ozzie Newsome drafted the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hurst with the notion that he would carry on in the tradition of former standout Baltimore tight ends Todd Heap, Shannon Sharpe and Dennis Pitta.

Coach John Harbaugh is eager to make that happen.

"It's important to get Hayden involved moving forward," Harbaugh said. "He's a first-round pick, talented guy. The other side of it is, he's a rookie and he missed a significant portion. We just have to keep bringing him along."

Fortunately, Hurst gets it. The 25-year-old can't wait to add some numbers to his one measly reception, but knows he's got to be patient.

"It's going to come," Hurst said. "I mean, people forget that I had a screw put in my foot five or six weeks ago. It takes some time. I'm not too worried about the catches and things like that. Once I get in the flow of the game, get the game speed back, I'll be fine."

Flacco formed a tight rapport with Pitta and loves hitting his tight ends over the middle. Perhaps that can happen with Hurst, once he's operating at peak efficiency.

"It's a tough deal when you've been with us through training camp and get a lot of work and then you miss five weeks," Flacco said.

At this point, Lamar Jackson - Baltimore's other first-round pick at No. 32 - has proven to be more productive than Hurst and thus has received far more attention.

"Maybe it's because he's the quarterback," Hurst said. "I feel like I'm a pretty good tight end, I have a lot of confidence in my ability. I'm excited to get back in there playing again."

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Updated October 24, 2018

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