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Hayden Hurst plans for practice return after offseason surgery

Hayden Hurst

CHARLOTTE – Hayden Hurst was brought on to help bolster production at the tight end spot, and he'll start the early part of his transition to a new team Friday.

Hurst, who the Panthers picked up from the Bengals in free agency, hasn't been able to participate much through veteran minicamp and OTAs while he recovers from offseason groin surgery. But the 29-year-old veteran will be back running routes at the end of the week, head coach Frank Reich said after Thursday's practice.

He'll will be at a similar participation level to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., who is recovering from foot/ankle surgery.

"We'll get them in – there won't be any team reps, but they're going to start getting some routes on air," Reich said. "Really no competitive stuff. But both those guys will get a little bit of that tomorrow."

Hurst said Thursday that he's "feeling good" as he recovers from his procedure after Cincinnati fell in the AFC Championship game last January. 

Hurst said he played through the injury all last year with the Bengals when he put up 414 yards on 52 receptions in 13 games.

"(I'm) just going through mechanically figuring out how to run healthy and all that stuff again," Hurst said. "But should be in walkthrough and routes on air tomorrow. So it's fun to get back out there, get back in the mix."

Hurst is going into his sixth year in the NFL and hasn't played a full season since 2020, when he played in all 16 games for the Falcons, starting nine and putting up a career-high 571 yards on 56 catches.

He's focused on maintaining his health at Carolina, and getting out on the practice field Friday is the first step to that.

"It's important to get out there, obviously knock the rust off and things like that," Hurst said. "I think 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 it last year, and it's a big goal of mine this year. So I'm just focused on getting healthy."

The Panthers signed Hurst to help bolster a tight end group consisting of Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Giovanni Ricci, and Stephen Sullivan, who combined for just 517 yards on 50 receptions all last season.

Paired with a rookie quarterback in Bryce Young, Hurst is poised to play a role in the Panthers' offense as the most experienced and productive pass-catching tight end on the roster.

"It's very tight end friendly," Hurst said of the Panthers' new offense. "When you're in the red zone, it's very tight end centric. I think everything kind of goes through that, especially when you have a young quarterback, so when you get the ball out quick, (tight ends are) the guys that are kind of your first sight of vision. So it's exciting to be in those progressions and those reads."

It all starts when he returns to the field, which happens tomorrow.

Carolina kicked off the new month with more OTAs on Thursday.

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