Eagles’ Jalen Hurts excited to meet Cam Newton in joint practice with Patriots; strives to be more efficient
Jalen Hurts and Cam Newton met for the first time as the Eagles and Patriots met for a joint practice on Monday.
Sporting all-white cleats with knee-high white socks and white tape wrapped around his ankles, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts jogged off the field with a rousing smile.
Before entering the media tent for his weekly session with reporters following Monday’s joint practice with the Patriots, Hurts sought out New England quarterback Cam Newton.
At 32, Newton might not exude the same talent and traits as the 2015 version of himself, when he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year and finished with first-team All-Pro honors, but one can still respect his accomplishments.
The two quarterbacks embraced and chatted briefly before handling their separate media obligations. It was a meaningful moment for Hurts, who grew up watching Newton.
“This was my first time actually meeting him in person,” Hurts said. “As an older athlete, he’s a legendary player, the things he’s done in college and in the league. Being able to talk to him and have a relationship with him, it was great.”
Hurts, a 2020 second-round pick, is approaching his sophomore season with rising expectations for a franchise that is hungry to get back on the winning track sooner rather than later. Throughout training camp, first-year coach Nick Sirianni has stressed efficiency and limiting mistakes.
Last season, Hurts averaged 3.37 seconds per dropback, which was longest in the league among quarterbacks with multiple starts, according to Pro Football Focus. Even when Hurts wasn’t pressured, he still averaged more than 3 seconds per dropback.
That’s simply too much time with the ball in his hands.
A big part of improving Hurts’ efficiency revolves around his decisiveness in the pocket. Part of this equation can be addressed presnap, when Hurts makes his checks at the line of scrimmage. During the team’s first preseason game against the Steelers, Hurts did a fine job with his checks. He was praised on multiple occasions by coaches for his presnap decisions.
“I thought he played really good,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “What I know about him is he’s never satisfied, which is what makes him good. He wants to be great. So we corrected a few things, but he’s ascending in the right direction and we’re excited about his progress.”
The other factor of the efficiency equation, though, is based on what Hurts does once the ball is snapped, and how he reacts to the pocket that’s created for him. Will he fold when the pocket crashes? Will he use his speed to create a new pocket outside the hash marks? Will his receivers get open fast enough for him to throw the ball their way?
There are many moving parts, but a lot will fall on Hurts’ shoulders.
“We have to be able to extend plays when things are covered up,” Hurts said. “We’ve worked those things and drilled those things. That’s the goal of this offense – we want to be efficient.”
With veterans Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce serving as anchors, the Eagles offensive line seems healthy and poised for a successful season. If the linemen can hold it down in the trenches, they’ll have a chance to mask some of Hurts’ mistakes and provide him with an opportunity to succeed.
Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who returned to practice on a limited basis Monday after suffering a sprained MCL on July 31, excels at route running and is expected to be one of Hurts’ top targets. The summer evolution of speedy wide receiver Quez Watkins is another exciting development for the offense.
“Today felt good,” Hurts said. “Everybody was competing and playing fast. A lot of good things today.”
The Eagles have another joint practice with the Patriots on Tuesday ahead of their second preseason game Thursday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
Hurts has signaled that he’ll welcome each learning moment with open arms. That includes while he’s under center and also while he’s watching one of his role models from the sideline.
After all, Newton does hold the NFL quarterback records for the most rushing touchdowns (70), most rushing touchdowns in a single season (14) and most rushing attempts (1,071).
“Hurts is my little bro,” Newton said. “There’s a lot of guys I admire from afar. Just to see the state of the NFL, having so much athleticism at the quarterback position, it’s something to smile about. Jalen is somebody I followed all throughout his college career [at Alabama and Oklahoma]. I heard so much about him.
“For me to see him out here today, it’s always love and will always be love between us.”
Said Hurts: “Repetition brings confidence and comfort. It’s a real thing. ... Whether it’s the same looks or different looks, we have to respond the right way offensively and make a positive play from it.”