Immediately after DeVonta Smith hauled in a big-yardage reception down the right sideline on a lofted ball from Jalen Hurts, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni emphatically voiced his stamp of approval.
“Great throw, Jalen!” Sirianni shouted towards his quarterback.
The organized team activity was only a 7-on-7 session lasting an hour on Friday afternoon, but Sirianni was so excited that he repeated himself at least three times. Hurts’ deep ball to Smith was one of several he completed during the session with the offense dominating the day.
The Eagles are hosting just six spring practices with no full-team 11-on-11 sessions. Friday’s practice was the first of two OTA sessions open to reporters, and it marked the halfway point of the offseason program with three practices remaining next week.
These practices do come with asterisks. Attendance is not mandatory (wide receivers Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal were among those missing), and players are still ramping up their bodies as they prepare to briefly break away before training camp begins in late July.
But the impressive reads and throws — albeit in early June — are encouraging signs from Hurts, who is entering his second season as the full-time starter.
“He just has a relentless effort to be great,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. “Every approach he takes — he doesn’t have an offseason. He’s always on it. He’s always thinking about football. We’re always talking football, day in and day out, and he’s continuing to grow as a player, as a leader, every single day.”
The Eagles are hopeful Hurts will benefit from the addition of star wide receiver A.J. Brown, who they pried from the Titans in a blockbuster trade on the first night of the draft. The team subsequently signed Brown to a deal worth up to $100 million. He is expected to create more options in the passing offense lining up on the opposite side of second-year wideout DeVonta Smith. Brown and Hurts boast an established level of chemistry that the duo is hopeful carries over onto the field.
“That’s my best friend,” Brown said. “We have talks all the time, even when we leave here, ‘What can we do to get better?’ There’s always talks of how can we learn each other and continue to get on the same page.”
Besides improving his timing and progressions, Hurts has emphasized upping his flexibility and perfecting his footwork within the pocket. The 2020 second-round pick offers a dynamic ability as a dual threat, but Hurts is hoping to fine-tune his mechanics heading into Year 3.
“You can see right now obviously his feet, we’re working on his feet right now, the drop, the quickness of it, the timing,” Steichen said.
“It’s starting to show. [He’s] a young player, trying to get better every single day. That’s what he’s been doing, and it’s been really good to see.”
Hurts is bound to benefit from the continuity with Sirianni, Steichen, position coach Brian Johnson and the rest of the coaching staff. This offseason marks the first time in his career, dating back to high school, in which Hurts will remain within the same offensive system in consecutive seasons.
Last year, Hurts completed 61.3% of his throws with 16 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also recorded 784 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, which marked the most rushing touchdowns by any Eagles quarterback in a single season.
While impressive, Hurts wasn’t perfect Friday. During the final 7-on-7 period, he overthrew Brown down the right sideline. On the play, Hurts launched the ball Brown’s way while the receiver simultaneously slowed his pace for a slight second. It was enough miscommunication to result in an incompletion.
“I trust everybody on the team to make plays,” Hurts said. “It’s my job to go out there and play point guard. I have to distribute the ball, get the playmakers the ball. My plays will come.”
‘It’s gotta change’
Before handling any questions from reporters, Hurts opened his session with a statement addressing the recent acts of gun violence across the country.
“We have a lot of stuff going on in our world right now,” Hurts said. “When I sit back and think about...what’s happened in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa — whether it’s a grocery store, a hospital, an elementary school. That’s no place for fear. Fear [doesn’t] belong in those places. I can’t even imagine my little cousins, my little sister not coming home from school, my dad not coming home from work.
“Ultimately, getting weapons off the streets, making a true change, that’s something that we urge in all our communities. It’s gotta change, it’s gotta change.”
Throughout Friday’s practice, the Eagles honored survivors and victims of gun violence by wearing orange practice shirseys on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The team is also partnering with the Philadelphia Police Department, which is hosting a gun buyback event at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday.
Brown added: “I really want something to happen. Too many innocent people are losing their lives daily due to mass shootings. To be honest, I’m not into politics, but I just want to raise awareness of the situation of what’s going on.”