Tight end Hayden Hurst was something of a forgotten man last year, the Ravens' first draft pick who vanished into the background after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury. To a large degree, the Ravens offense moved on without him, sparked by that other first-round pick, quarterback Lamar Jackson, and that other rookie tight end, Mark Andrews.
As he met with the media after the Ravens OTA workout May 30, a bigger, stronger Hurst said he is healthy and motivated, declaring, "I've got a lot to prove."
Hopes were high that Hurst could make an immediate impact last year after the Ravens selected the former South Carolina tight end with the No. 25 overall pick. But a stress fracture in his foot sidelined him for the first month of the season, and he said that even after returning to action, he never felt 100 percent. Hurst finished the season with 13 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.
Hurst, who turns 26 in August, said he recognizes the expectations that come with being a first-round pick, and after an offseason committed to getting bigger, stronger and healthier, he is ready to deliver.
"Injuries happen. You just kind of go out of sight and out of mind," Hurst said. "It's just kind of how it is, but I'm happy it happened, because it adds a little bit more fuel to my fire."
Now up to 265 pounds and sporting a bushy red beard longer than it was a year ago, Hurst said he has added 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame this year. Head coach John Harbaugh said, "When you see his build, I think you can see the difference. He hasn't lost one step of speed."
"He's definitely a man on a mission," Harbaugh added.
Hurst and Andrews, who caught 34 catches for 552 yards -- the most by any rookie tight end last year -- figure to be a key part of the Ravens' rebuilt offensive system under new coordinator Greg Roman. The Ravens also re-signed Nick Boyle (23 catches, 213 yards), giving them a deep trio at a position that is central to their offense.
"I know we are a huge focal point of this offense," Hurst said, "so it's fun being a tight end here and playing for Baltimore."
Hurst said his chemistry with Jackson is "coming along," and in the May 30 workout open to the media, Jackson connected with Hurst on one of his best passes of the day. Hurst's lone touchdown catch last year was a 26-yard pass from Jackson at Carolina.
Jackson, Hurst said, "knows he's coming in as the No. 1 guy. I think that's good for his confidence. It's just fun seeing him grow every day because he just gets better and better each day. I think we all know he's a heck of an athlete, and it's fun to watch him do his thing out there."
After the way last season played out, Hurst just hopes he's part of that more often this season.