EAGLES ARE TEAM BUILDING AROUND HURTS
On a bright brisk day at Lambeau Field in 1988 I caught my one and only pass in the NFL; good for 37 yards and a desperately needed first down as my Indianapolis Colts hung on to defeat the Packers.
It was a tackle eligible play that we had put in that had me move from guard to tight end to block the edge when we had a lead in the fourth quarter and were trying to bleed the clock.
I agreed to the position change only if they would put in a pass play for me. It worked and ever since I have considered myself a receiver as much as a lineman
Fast forward 33 years to this past June when I went on a 5 AM workout in Moorestown, NJ to meet with Jalen Hurts and a group of lineman to workout.
I caught a bunch of Jalen Hurts passes that early morning as the sun began to break the dawn. I also dropped a bunch of passes, uncharacteristically.
You see, Jalen Hurts has a rifle for an arm. I have caught a lot of passes from a lot of quarterbacks in my time from Jeff George to Randall Cunningham to the great Patrick Mahomes. Hurts can put as much zip on the ball as anyone.
Today I watched my second Eagle practice of this preseason at NovaCare. I spent a lot of the morning watching Hurts throw passes in a variety of drills. All of them without his former Alabama teammate and newest Eagle wideout, Devonta Smith.
Smith was banged up the day prior when he sprained his MCL.I mention the injury to Smith only to say that the Birds desperately need a true No.1 wide receiver that Hurts can rely on.
His development partly hinges on their timing and execution, although he has a fleet of young receivers that he needs to build trust with.
In talking to reputed QB evaluators like Ron Jaworski and Kurt Warner; Hurts needs to really concentrate on 2 areas of emphasis. This is based off of 4.5 games of playing time at the end of the Birds dismal 2020 season. I will add a third based on my own evaluation.
All quarterbacks throw the ball with their legs. It starts with setting their feet properly. It sounds so easy and so fundamental. But when Carson Wentz got in trouble missing open receivers the past couple of years his feet were not properly set. When your eyes move your feet need to move with you.
So when Jalen throws good accurate footballs you can point to his footwork and he is in a good throwing position. No one was better at this than Drew Brees.
In fact in a game last season he missed 1 pass; yes had one incompletion in an entire game.
And in his winning post game comments his one criticism of himself was his incompletion. He said he didn't set his feet properly and thus he had an errant throw.
The next point of emphasis is his ability to sail through progressions. Most pass plays have an intended target based on the defense's coverage. Sometimes you can glimpse presnap what the defense is doing and most of the hard work can be settled before the ball is snapped. But many defenses are well disguised and they won't show you what they are doing until the ball is snapped.
There were times last season where if the first read did not look open to Jalen then he was on the move using his enormous athletic ability to create outside the pocket. Eagle quarterbacks were sacked a league high 65 times last season.
Many were certainly due to protection breakdowns due to injuries, young players moving around to new positions and a rare rash of injuries.
But not all!
Many were the result of the quarterbacks giving up on plays too quickly. But a major emphasis this summer with Jalen is to go through his progressions, or his receiving options, both quickly and efficiently. Part of that is a more thorough understanding of what defenses are doing and what his answers are to what defenses are taking away.
My last emphasis for Hurts, and he was guilty of this in the last two games of the season, is he cannot drop his eyes from his targets to read the rush. Quarterbacks cannot both read the rush and read the coverage at the same time.
This is perhaps Tom Brady's best skill; to keep his eyes down field while the rush is crashing down upon him from all angles. quarterbacks who are as athletic as Hurts can get away with using that ability to escape, but normally fall prey to injuries or inconsistent play in the passing game.
There is so much to learn for Hurts in such a short period of time. He is, however, very coachable and demonstrates great leadership. His teammates like and respect him and his work ethic. All positives.
He has said that the only coach that really helped to make him a better quarterback was Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma. That is not a great endorsement for the staff in Philly last season, nor the flurry of coordinators he had at Alabama.
I think he can benefit from an offense that should return a very strong offensive line and a very good rushing attack. Those strengths can help. But on 3-10 in this league you better be able to convert those situations with regularity or your offense will stall mightily. Jalen Hurts realizes this.
Waiting in the wings has been an exceptionally quiet Joe Flacco entering his 14th season.
There isn't much Joe hasn't seen. He has been on two very poor teams the past two seasons; the Broncos and the Jets. He hasn't been healthy in either place but he is as healthy as he has been at any time over the past four seasons.
If Jalen falters or doesn't move the team I can see Flacco stepping in and playing well. This is the best team he has been on since Lamar Jackson took over for him in Baltimore four years ago. Former 49er Nick Mullens is also battling for a roster spot.
He received a lot of PT in San Francisco when Jimmy Garroppolo missed 23 games with an assortment of injuries. He has shown the ability to win games coming off the bench or in limited starting duties.
The quarterback position is the most important in all of sports and you cannot win with any consistency until the quarterback plays consistently at a very high level. But the only way you can get there is to play.
I believe the quarterback position is Jalen Hurts' to lose on August 3rd. Knowing the competitor and the leader that Jalen is, he will give it everything he has and will never make excuses for his level of play.
I am excited to see him develop this summer and expect to see him in the starting lineup on September 12th against the Falcons.
Before that happens there is a lot of work to accomplish on his end and everyone on the offensive side of the ball. I say that we give all the support we can to a young Jalen Hurts, full of ability, and see if he can translate to the high demands of the NFL.
Three years ago I saw Josh Allen debut in a preseason game for the Bills and in my wildest dreams I never thought that in three years he could have his team, behind his 37 TD passes, on the precipice of winning the AFC Championship Game.
Patience and team building are at a premium for these Eagles early in the 2021 season.*