OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An already-unsettling start to Ravens training camp took another surprising turn Thursday morning with the retirement of fourth-year offensive lineman John Urschel.
The 2014 fifth-round pick from Penn State has elected to walk away from the game, leading many to conclude the decision is related to the frequency of chronic traumatic encephalopathy found in retired football players. Urschel’s academic endeavors are well-documented as he began pursuing a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from MIT last year.
The 26-year-old released a statement that made no mention of safety concerns and cited his desire to focus exclusively on his studies this fall, but he’s spoken in the past about balancing his love of football with its dangers that could hinder his intellectual ability. Urschel also revealed that he and his fiancée are expecting their first child in December.
His retirement comes two days after the release of the disturbing results from a large study on CTE.
— John Urschel (@JohnCUrschel) July 27, 2017
Harbaugh said Urschel called him early Thursday and told him that he’d been pondering his football future throughout the offseason, but the final decision came as a surprise to the Ravens head coach.
“It was out of the blue. He had been working hard,” said Harbaugh, who wished Urschel well with his future plans. “He was here all summer. He was working on his snaps all summer. He was doing a great job, and it was definitely a lightning bolt that way.”
Urschel was competing with Ryan Jensen and Matt Skura for the starting center job previously held by Jeremy Zuttah, who was traded to San Francisco in the offseason. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman appeared in 40 games for the Ravens over the last three seasons, making 13 starts. He also started both games in the 2014 postseason when right guard Marshal Yanda moved out to right tackle in place of the injured Rick Wagner.
He had participated in all spring workouts.
Harbaugh did not express any urgency to add another center to the mix as Jensen was handling the first-team reps during Thursday’s workout.
Since June 1, the Ravens have lost cornerback Tavon Young (knee), tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) to season-ending injuries and tight end Darren Waller to a one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco is also sidelined for the start of training camp with back discomfort.