If he is cleared to return from a foot injury, Baltimore Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst will make his professional debut Sunday night at Heinz Field.
A few years ago, it looked like Hurst would have a future on the North shore — in a different sport and at a different venue.
Hurst was a hard-throwing pitcher who was selected by the Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. He received a $400,000 signing bonus, but his baseball career was derailed after two years by a case of the yips, and he reinvented himself as a tight end at South Carolina.
The transition was so smooth for Hurst that he was selected in the first round, No. 25 overall, by the Ravens this spring.
Hurst has missed the first three games of the season because of a stress fracture in his foot. He resumed practicing this week on a limited basis and is questionable to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh likes the progress Hurst has made since his injury.
“You can’t really say he didn’t miss a beat, just because — who knows — we’re not really playing padded football in practice as much,” Harbaugh said Friday. “But it really didn’t seem like there was a difference between when he left and what he did this week. He looked very good, very strong.”
Hurst’s return would add another target for quarterback Joe Flacco. Without Hurst, the Ravens have gotten production from three tight ends, including Mark Andrews, who was selected two rounds after Hurst.
Andrews, starter Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams have combined for 21 catches and 243 yards.
Ryan Switzer’s contributions to the Steelers have gone beyond special teams.
Switzer caught three passes for 9 yards and had a 1-yard touchdown reception Monday night in Tampa Bay. Not bad production considering Switzer was on the field for just seven offensive snaps.
Switzer had one catch for 14 yards over 20 snaps in the first two weeks.
“That’s just grown over time with him being here because he’s allowed you to do some things because he’s a very above-the-neck football player,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “He possesses a toughness. He possesses a quickness, so you want to try to utilize him where you can and not overutilize him to a degree, either, because he has a big responsibility in the kicking game for us.”
Switzer is averaging 11.1 yards on punt returns and 19.6 yards on kickoff returns.
The Ravens have set an NFL record with 12 touchdowns in as many trips inside the red zone this season. The Steelers, though, are 7 for 8 when driving inside the opposing 20, an 87.5 percentage that is tied for third.
The only failed touchdown conversion for the Steelers came in the first quarter of the season opener in Cleveland when Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception at the Browns 18.
Team president Art Rooney II in the offseason cited red-zone scoring as an area that needed improving after the Steelers scored touchdowns on 53.3 percent of their red-zone trips in 2017. They ranked No. 18 in that category in 2017.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.