As with most teams, the offensive line depth chart has been a bit of a question mark through the years for the Ravens. Guys like Jah Reid and A.Q. Shipley have been waiting in the wings, but it’s been a while since the unit as a whole has had a significant backup plan at any spot on the depth chart.
As we enter the 2014 season, the team will again look for above-average performances in training camp and the preseason. And while finding a solid backup has lately been like finding a needle in a haystack, John Harbaugh’s team might just have their underdog ready to fight.
Enter James Hurst.
In a move that drew little fanfare after the draft, Ozzie Newsome may made one of the biggest steals of this draft after the Spring Classic ended. Before a nasty leg injury that forced him to sit out pre-draft workouts, Hurst was once projected to be a potential early-round tackle prospect. The Ravens were able to get him as an undrafted free agent, inking him to a deal on May 10.
During his time at the University of North Carolina, the 6’5″ bookend had a clear understanding of the game and the fundamentals of his position.
He made a lot look easy on tape, and his production was extremely high in the rushing attack. While his pass protection game needs some fine-tuning, Hurst has the potential to be a sponge in year one while on the 53-man roster.
For the Ravens, the tackle spot could be argued as the most worrisome spot on the depth chart as the team enters training camp. Eugene Monroe will have the left side locked down, but there’s still a gaping hole on the right side of new anchor Jeremy Zuttah’s offensive line.
The coaching staff seems to like Rick Wagner, but somebody like Ryan Jensen could sneak in and fight for a starting job by Week One.
There’s no reason to believe the team will throw Hurst to the wolves and start him early in the year, but there’s definitely a shot for the former Tar Heel to get playing time in 2014. An injury to Monroe or a few poor starts by players on the right side could force Harbaugh to make a call to the bullpen and test his undrafted free agent.
Of course, all of this will depend on whether Hurst will be ready to perform in crunch time – and for him, that’s early on in training camp. He’ll still need to earn a spot on the big 53, but he’s certainly expected to beat out the David Mimses of the world. It should ultimately boil down to how much rehab and work Hurst was able to put in during his extended “off-season”.
The team will undoubtedly be looking for the rookie to fight for a spot on the team - especially considering the offensive line depth they do have is all on the interior. While there are roughly seven guys who could get a spot on the 53-man roster at C/G, only about three or four (Monroe, Wagner, Hurst, Jensen) might dress on Sundays.