Hurst ready to work for more opportunities with Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Hayden Hurst has played his best when he’s had a clear and defined role. That was the case in 2020 with Atlanta when he knew going into the season he would get plenty of playing time, and he prepared and played well enough to keep contributing regularly.

The new Cincinnati Bengals tight end feels that same energy of two years ago and looks forward to being utilized in an already potent offense that he hopes to help take to another level this season.

Hurst, a 2018 first-round draft pick of the Ravens, joined the Bengals as a free agent following two seasons each with Atlanta and Baltimore. He played 13 games last year with just five starts after appearing in all 16 games in 2020, including nine starts, and catching 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns.

“They told me I was a starter -- they were honest with me,” Hurst said of his career-best 2020 season. “When I know what the OC (offensive coordinator) wants from me, it helps me get in and study and hone in on my craft with my releases or how I’m setting guys up at the top. When guys are kind of unclear what my role is, it’s hard for me to understand what you want from me. And they have a clear, defined role for me here, so it helps me just get to work.”

Hurst doesn’t care what his role is, whether he’s just blocking for other guys or a consistent target for Joe Burrow. He just wants to know where he stands and what is expected of him.

The Bengals brought him in to replace C.J. Uzomah, who was the team’s starting tight end the past four years and developed into a reliable pass catcher while recording just under 500 yards receiving and five touchdowns last season. The plan seems to be to utilize Hurst’s speed and pass-catching ability in that same role, but he is open to anything.

“I’ve told James (Casey), I’ve told the OC (Brian Callahan), all these guys, whatever you guys want me to do, that’s what I’m here to do,” Hurst said. “I’m not a Prima Donna, I’m not expecting this many catches or anything like that. I just want to fit in with you guys play hard. And however they want to use me, it’s all good.”

The opportunity to work with Burrow was especially appealing to Hurst when evaluating options this offseason. A chance to play for a Super Bowl team also was nice, but Burrow was a big part of that run last season and the main draw for Hurst, like other newcomers to the team.

“He’s a professional,” Hurst said. “He’s took his team to the Super Bowl last year. And he’s just a professional. And I love it, because it helps me understand what I need to do and what he needs for me, helps me go out through the week, and get my process going. And I just love it. I love to work, it’s kind of what I’ve always done so being in this offense and kind of having my role, it’s cool.

“It’s awesome. Because like I said, he’s a professional. You know what you’re gonna get with him every day. So like I said, it just gets me ready. I’m studying and making sure I’ve got the yardage down because when he’s on time and in rhythm me and him just sync up and after I run a route or anything like that, I just kind of check with him, like is that the depth you want? Is that how you want it? It’s just continue to do that. I’m glad we got started in May and June and it will carry over to the fall.”

Hurst is working to get sharper at the top of his routes and learning leverages to create more separation so Burrow has better windows to throw to him.

The Bengals got into 7-on-7s for the first time this offseason Monday with the start of Organized Team Activities, and Hurst said it was fun being back with a starting unit and having opportunities to run deeper routes. He had one over-the-top catch on a crisp pass from Burrow on Tuesday while media were able to attend practice, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Hurst has been “as expected” so far.

“He’s tuned in and he and James (Casey) are joined at the hip there,” Taylor said. “So, it’s been fun to watch them operate, communicate and for him to learn our system. He’s done a good job executing it. He had a really, really great route today where he broke leverage and made a nice catch and Joe was there on time with the throw. So we’re really excited about his potential.”

Hurst feels like he can reach his potential in an “elite offense” like this one. He wasn’t always given those opportunities in the past, he said, but he brings valuable learning experiences from his time in Baltimore and Atlanta and “can’t wait” to put it into action with the Bengals.

“I think the best thing, as hard as those times were just with the lack of opportunities, I just continued to work day in day out,” Hurst said. “Even though for whatever reason I wasn’t getting the ball thrown my way in those offenses, I just worked. I put my head down and maybe got a little pissed off at times, but I’m a competitor, so I just want to do whatever I can to help wherever I’m at. But yeah, the best thing that I did, it just helped me come in every day and just stack days, just get better every single day, whether the ball was coming my way, wasn’t coming my way, and I think that’s gonna help me here because like I said, I just put my head down and work.”

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