When defensive end Brandon Graham went down with a ruptured Achilles earlier in the season, he left behind a large void in leadership. Graham, a 12-year veteran and team captain, was widely considered the heart and soul of the Eagles.
The ensuing game, quarterback Jalen Hurts stepped up in Graham’s place and broke down the team huddle before the Eagles lost to the Cowboys in a 41-21 blowout on Monday Night Football.
That embarrassing defeat was one of the lowest points of the season. However, the Eagles have made noticeable strides. The team is on a mini hot streak, having won three of its last four games.
Along the way, Hurts has progressed within first-year coach Nick Sirianni’s evolving offense. Hurts leads the NFL in explosive plays (16-plus-yard completions and 10-plus-yard rushes) with 78. The 2020 second-round pick has also developed in his role as a vocal leader.
“Jalen has just been consistent and steady,” Sirianni said of Hurts. “I think that’s what you want out of your quarterback and out of the leader on the football team.”
The quarterback is a position that naturally comes with leadership, but it is not always a guarantee that will be exuded, especially with a young player like the 23-year-oldHurts.
But Hurts has maintained his poise and demeanor.
Following last Sunday’s victory over the Saints, Hurts again broke down the team huddle amid the postgame celebration inside the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field.
Hurts emphasized consistency while he delivered his message.
“It’s something I preach all the time,” Hurts said. “I think it’s so important to hone in and be consistent on the details and attacking it everyday. I’ve said the same thing all year -- regardless of the outcome of games, we have to hone in on the standard, and we have to live and die by that standard. We want to attack everyday and be consistent, that’s what we’re striving for here.
“It’s always been me just being me. I’ve never had a label or a name for it. I just go out there and be myself. I’ve been granted the opportunity to lead this football team and I hold it with high value and high regards. It’s something I take very seriously and it’s important to me.
“I want to set the right example for everybody, I want to make sure I’m on my job and just continue to do that.”
The team still has long-tenured vets, such as Fletcher Cox, Rodney McLeod, Lane Johnson, and Jason Kelce, but Graham was the loudest player in the locker room and inside the huddle. McLeod has resumed his role as hype-man during pregame warmups, while Hurts has shown his own leadership in many other ways. He often quizzes his teammates on different routes and plays at random points while at the team facility. Throughout games and practices, Hurts takes mental notes and he’ll later address his observations with teammates.
“All the leaders on the team, Jalen in particular, stuck to the process of going to work every single day, of putting your head down and working every single day,” Sirianni said. “That’s who he is. He’s the same guy every single day.”
The Eagles can get back to .500 with a win over the Giants on Sunday afternoon. Philadelphia has the easiest remaining schedule in the league and the Eagles could make a compelling case for one of the final playoff spots in the NFC if they continue to stack victories.
“That’s not only a challenge when everyone tells you, ‘You stink,’ but that’s a challenge when everyone tells you how good you are,” Sirianni said. “That’s the message. And Jalen did a good job of that throughout some of the hard times. ...The message remains the same – put your head down, work, do the things we need to do to put ourselves in position to be 1-0 this week.”
Hurts concluded: “It’s just leadership. I want to be the best version of myself in doing that.”