NFL 2023: Carolina Panthers’ Hayden Hurst Returns To OTAs, Likes ‘Tight End Friendly’ Offense

panthers hayden hurst returns to ota (1)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Since Greg Olsen departed the Carolina Panthers in 2019, the tight end position became a franchise afterthought.

It was nearly forgotten.

Ian Thomas secured 21 receptions last season to lead the position group, but didn’t reach the end zone. Tommy Tremble added 19 catches and three scores, but averaged just 9.2 yards per reception.

The Panthers’ tight ends suffered from poor quarterback play and ineffective game plans.

During the Panthers’ organized team activities, first-year coach Frank Reich is installing a new offensive system, which will rely on newcomer Hayden Hurst, Thomas and Tremble to produce.

With the selection of No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young dominating the preseason headlines, not many are talking about the Panthers’ tight end group.

Reich hopes it stays that way.

“That’s good, I hope they keep flying under the radar,” Reich said. “I’m very happy with that room.”

Reich was even more ecstatic last Friday when Hurst, who is recovering from a hernia injury, made his OTA debut last Friday. Then a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, Hurst underwent surgery after appearing in the AFC Championship Game.

“I feel pretty good,” Hurst said. “Just going through it mechanically figuring out how to run healthy again. Should be in walkthrough and routes on air Friday. It’s fun to get back out there and get back in the mix.”

Hayden Hurst’s Addition Bolsters Panthers’ TE Group

With 177 career receptions, Hurst pulled in over 71 percent of his targets. The career reception percentages for Thomas (65.8 percent) and Tremble (58.2). Hurst was signed over the offseason to upgrade the position that is no longer a forgotten aspect of the Panthers’ playbook.

Hurst studied Reich’s coaching history.

His offenses have proven “very tight end friendly,” he said. “When you’re in the red zone, it’s very tight end centric.

“I think you just look at his track record and what he’s done with all those tight ends: (Antonio) Gates, (Zach) Ertz, Eric Ebron when he was in Indy,” Hurst said. “It’s a good offense to be a part of.”

Hurst said he was eager to get back on the practice field.

“It’s important to get out there and knock the rust off,” Hurst said. “I mean, that’s what spring ball is for. But my goal right now is to get healthy. I want to play in all 17 games. I didn’t do that last year and it’s a big goal of mine this year, so I’m just focused on getting healthy.”

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