If anyone knows how Jalen Hurts feels, it’s Carson Wentz.
Wentz once walked into a quarterback room not exactly full of open arms. He once toed the line between deference to veterans with competition against them. He once came to the Eagles a rookie looking for a mentor.
Wentz knows what it’s like to have a quarterback take him under his wing – and not. And he said he will take the former approach with Hurts.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of good quarterbacks,” Wentz said Thursday. “That’s not going to change my approach to the game personally and for how I’ll help him. I’m going to be here for him, help him to understand the ins and outs of the game.
“Ultimately, do whatever I can to help the team and that’s to help bring him along, as well.”
Wentz mentioned his three-year relationship with backup Nate Sudfeld and before that with Easton Stick as his backup at North Dakota State. But it’s probably his experience with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel after he was drafted in 2016 that will influence the 27-year-old most in his dealings with Hurts.
When the Eagles traded up to the No. 2 overall pick, thus revealing their intentions to draft a quarterback, Bradford demanded a trade. When Wentz was eventually selected, there was no introductory call from the incumbent starter, who had stopped coming to offseason workouts. And when they finally started working with each other, there wasn’t much interaction.
Bradford said that he adopted a mentor-by-example role. He said that he would share a tidbit when he saw fit, but mostly didn’t see the need for guidance since Wentz was “a sharp kid.” Daniel wasn’t pleased when the Eagles acquired Wentz either. Like Bradford, he signed a contract that offseason, and now his job as the backup was in jeopardy.
But Daniel was forthcoming. He saw that Wentz was a willing pupil and a hard worker, and he opened up his book of secrets. The rookie didn’t need much help on the field, but Daniel shared his daily schedule – one he had gotten from Drew Brees – with Wentz, as he did with other off-the-field lessons.
“It just kind of comes down to their personality,” Wentz said then. “You come in and you want to find mentors, that’s always a good thing, but you’ve got to learn the game on your own or through your coaches.”
Hurts has spent most of his first several months in the NFL on his own. The coronavirus shutdown significantly altered his orientation into the league. Offseason workouts were canceled, meetings were held only virtually, and Hurts just this week finally got to meet Wentz in person.
They won’t even have a full practice in pads together for another two weeks. And with physical distancing at the NovaCare Complex, and socializing outside the team facility discouraged, there won’t be as many opportunities for relationship-building.
“It’s been a weird deal,” Hurts said Wednesday. “This whole offseason has been unprecedented. Not being in the building and not experiencing things that I would have experienced in a traditional offseason or OTA, that type of deal, so there really hasn’t been much of that communication.”
The dynamic between Wentz and Hurts is different than the one that existed between Bradford and Wentz. Bradford signed a two-year contract with the Eagles before Wentz was drafted. While he was slated to start up until he was traded before the season opener, the job was clearly temporary. Wentz would someday replace him.
Hurts enters the picture via the second round and only a year after Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million extension through 2024. The Eagles’ financial investment implies that they’re committed to the latter long term, but the draft investment in the former also suggests that they’re not that committed.
General manager Howie Roseman downplayed the Wentz component at the time of the Hurts selection. He emphasized the value of the pick, even if Hurts was only to become a backup, and the long road the rookie had to becoming an NFL quarterback.
But the Eagles had set a precedent, at least in recent history. No other NFL team with a “franchise” quarterback as young had ever taken another so high in the draft in the last 30 years. Wentz reached out to Hurts immediately after he was selected and they’ve spoken since, but there has to be some awkwardness.
“We’ve talked. We’ve texted. We’ve communicated,” Hurts said. “But it’s just feeling each other out and building that relationship. When we both get in the building it will be even better for me to get reps with him, watch him, and do those things.”
Many veteran quarterbacks are protective of their knowledge. For some of the greats, they’ve considered the chance to work with them enough assistance. Brett Favre famously stiffed Aaron Rodgers after he was drafted in the first round by the Packers. The shoe is on the other foot now after Green Bay took Utah State quarterback Jordan Love this year.
Wentz doesn’t have to look back as far to remember what it felt like. He helped suppress what could have been a contentious situation by keeping his head down and going about his business. Hurts, at least publicly, appears to be cut from the same cloth.
His answers to questions have been so far benign and rote, but at least he never says the wrong thing. He must have said that he was looking to “improve every day” and “learn as much as I can,” or some other form of it, a dozen times during his last interview.
Reporters wanted to know his thoughts about playing other positions or being used as a complement to Wentz with a package of plays. But Hurts has mostly avoided the subject.
“I don’t look into the expectations. I don’t think about those things,” Hurts said. “I’m just worried about getting better as a quarterback every day.”
The Eagles drafted Hurts as a quarterback first and foremost. He had great success in college, and even dealt with starter-backup discomfort when he lost his job at Alabama to Tua Tagovailoa. But he eventually transferred to Oklahoma.
Hurts, unlike Wentz, didn’t play in strictly pro-style offenses at either stop. He’ll have a steeper learning curve and with Sudfeld ahead of him on the depth chart, at least to start, not as many practice repetitions.
But he has one of the best collections of quarterback instructors in the NFL with coach Doug Pederson, senior assistants Marty Mornhinweg and Rich Scangarello, and positional assistant Press Taylor. It’ll be incumbent upon the coaches to foster a collaborative environment that isn’t lacking competition.
“It’s a great room full of guys,” Hurts said. “I think we’re there to compete and help each other, help this team.”