Doug Pederson still believes Carson Wentz can be a great quarterback, but right now is Jalen Hurts’ time.
One day after the Eagles announced Hurts would take over the starting quarterback for Sunday’s home game against New Orleans, the Eagles coach tried to balance his excitement for the team’s second-round rookie with the need to rehabilitate the former franchise quarterback’s confidence.
Wentz showed a sharp regression this season, going from one of the 10 or 15 best quarterbacks in the league to one of the worst starters each week. The final straw came against the Packers last Sunday when Wentz was benched in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 30-16 loss at Green Bay.
Although Hurts gave the offense a spark and Wentz has struggled mightily this season, it’s unlikely Wentz’s time in Philadelphia is truly over. Even if the team wanted to cut bait with the soon-to-be 28-year-old, his four-year, $128 million contract extension doesn’t even kick in until next season, meaning cutting or trading him would come with severe salary-cap implications.
With that in mind, Pederson walked the fence between the two players.
“I think Carson Wentz can be an exceptional quarterback in this league,” Pederson said. “And he’s proven that. ... We gotta continue to battle and fight and work and work with him individually. Get him within the confines of the offense and the structure and just get back to being Carson Wentz and back on track. That’s my focus with him, to just get him back to the level of play that we all know he has shown us and that he’s capable of doing.”
Wentz is expected to be the backup quarterback this week instead of being completely inactive, although Pederson said the final decision will come later in the week.
The coach said he’s hoping Hurts, the former Oklahoma and Alabama star, provides a boost similar to the one he gave the Eagles’ offense at Lambeau Field last weekend. Hurts completed five of his 12 passing attempts for one touchdown and one interception.
“I was looking for a spark from our offense and a lot of times it comes from putting your quarterback on the bench for the backup, and that’s all I’m looking for here,” Pederson said. “I’m looking for a little spark, a little shot in the arm to kind of pick the offense up.”
Hurts now will get the first-team reps as the Eagles prepare to face the 9-3 Saints, who have one of the best defenses in the NFL. New Orleans is ranked No. 1 in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. They’ve given up a league-low 3.3 yards per carry and have 13 interceptions.
In his first news conference at QB1, Hurts said he’s not getting too caught up in what he can do to fix the Eagles offense, which is ranked No. 29 by Football Outsiders.
“I just want to go in there and execute,” Hurts said. “Just move around with good urgency. I think the most important thing right now is how we practice and what we do throughout the week. How we practice is a reflection on how we’ll play on Sunday.”
Pederson said the coaching staff can put together a game plan to make things easier for Hurts as he’s thrown into the fire against an elite defense, although most of his plans sound similar to what the offense has been trying to do all season.
“You’ve got to attempt to establish a little bit of the run game, that helps,” Pederson said. “He can be a part of that, I think, and just go out and maybe try to find some easy completions. Maybe the quick game and a screen here and there, and maybe try to find some easy completions ... something that’s trying to get him into the flow of the game.
“This is the No. 1 defense,” Pederson added. “It’s no easy task, obviously. He’s facing a really good opponent this week. It’s our job as coaches, it’s my job as a play-caller, to try and help him that way and get into the flow of the game, and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Given the matchup and the current state of the offense, it would be understandable if Hurts struggles in his first start. Still, Pederson wouldn’t commit to Hurts being the starter beyond this week when asked.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t predict the future, right?” Pederson said. “Come on. All I can focus on is today and getting our team prepared today and getting our guys ready for Sunday.”