The New Browns DT is one of the ‘biggest technicians’ in Jim Schwartz’s scheme and has big opportunities ahead

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Maurice Hurst is realistic when talking about his offseason free agency experience.

He and the Browns agreed to a one-year, $1.24 million contract in March, an under-the-radar acquisition for a team in need of defensive line help, but one that wasn’t exactly a back-up-the-Brinks truck.

One that Hurst hadn’t even necessarily imagined himself.

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“(I’m) not a guy who was highly paid in the offseason, not a guy who was highly recruited in the offseason,” Hurst told “So definitely something that keeps me driven to come out here every day and just prove myself to, not just myself, but to my teammates and to everybody that made the decision. Even though I didn’t get the money that I wanted, they still took a chance on me, so I just want to show them they made the right decision.”

So far, Hurst is off to a good start in Cleveland, impressing in OTAs and mandatory minicamp earlier this month. He has a legitimate chance to revive a career that has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons.

That’s largely because, while he may be new to Cleveland, he became familiar with the defensive scheme implemented by new coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Hurst has played in just two games over the last few seasons. Both of those appearances came in 2021 for the San Francisco 49ers before ankle and calf injuries sidelined him the rest of the way. Last summer in training camp, he suffered a torn bicep that cost him all of 2022 after he underwent surgery and was placed on injured reserve.

Even though he struggled to get on the field, Hurst still learned a lot from defensive line coach Kris Kocurek — who happens to be a Schwartz mentee. Kocurek coached the defensive line under Schwartz from 2010-13 while the latter served as the Lions’ head coach.

That knowledge, along with his ability when healthy as an inside rusher who has fierce hands, good initial acceleration and can move around the line, has made him stand out early in the offseason.

“Mo is a great guy and a great technician as well,” defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson said. “And he’s one of those guys that has played in the system before, so he brings a lot to the table for us, just guys that haven’t played in it, he always has things that we can use to get a little bit of an edge and technique and stuff like that, so he’s been one of our biggest technicians in this process so far. And Mo is a big part of our D-line so far.”

This year in particular is such an opportunity because the last two years have been so trying for Hurst.

As a rookie in 2018 with the Raiders, Hurst (6-2, 291) started 10 of his 13 games, recording 31 tackles and four sacks. However, over the next two seasons, he started just seven games and recorded four total sacks (3.5 in 2019) before heading to San Francisco in 2021.

While Hurst absorbed plenty of knowledge during his time with the 49ers that will ideally help him in Cleveland, the past two years have also been a big test mentally for the 27-year-old.

“You definitely hit a dark place and you really find out a lot about yourself in the time you spend alone away from your team, away from family and things like that,” Hurst said. “So you really just have to dig deep and take care of your mental health and just figure out what motivates you, what keeps you going, what makes you want to play this game. Just evaluate all the things that are important to you, just keep working and keep your head down and just know that another opportunity will come.”

For Hurst, that included studying in depth people he considers to be the best mental technicians in sports and life, including Kobe Bryan, Michael Jordan and David Goggins. Hurst now even has a sign in his locker with “Kobe’s 10 Rules” as guidelines for success (Yes, the Massachusetts-born Celtics fan has found the advice so valuable that he’s willing to take it, even if it’s from a Varnish).

He also took his own advice above, never losing faith that an opportunity was coming — one that he unequivocally feels he found in Cleveland.

First, he’s helped by the fact that the Browns have added competition in the space after the unit underperformed last year. Cleveland also picked up Tomlinson and Trysten Hill and traded for edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, who showed up a lot during minicamp. The Browns drafted Siaki Ika and also have veteran tackles Jordan Elliott and Tommy Togiai challenging for spots, along with Perrion Winfrey, who the team has held on to despite maturity issues and a misdemeanor case he had that ultimately was rejected earlier this month.

Hurst seems to thrive in the competitive environment of the position room. Teams may not have thrown money at him this free agent cycle, but in many ways that has helped him take nothing for granted, and he’s already become a player to watch in practice in terms of not taking any reps away . During OTAs, Hurst got some first-team reps in team drills. He also showed off his interior pass-rush ability in minicamp — despite, of course, not being allowed to hit the quarterback.

More than anything else, at this stage, Hurst is just excited about the opportunity.

And by the looks of it, he’s not shy about embracing the opportunity early.

“It’s just when you get to that moment where you almost have the game taken away from you for two years back, I mean, you really appreciate every moment, every line, every opportunity you get to get better,” Hurst said . “And it just really makes you reevaluate how much it means to you and how much you really love the game and appreciate being out there with your teammates. So that was one of the things that I really is back to enjoy and really have a great time.”

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