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‘The work is just beginning’: Eagles use joint practices as springboard headed into preseason finale vs. Jets

Will the Eagles' starters play in the preseason finale? Either way, they got work in facing the Jets in joint practices.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (left) and receiver Greg Ward talk after a joint practice with the New England Patriots last week.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (left) and receiver Greg Ward talk after a joint practice with the New England Patriots last week.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – While standing on the sideline, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts leaned forward Wednesday afternoon as if he were trying to get a closer look at what was happening on the field.

Moments earlier, Hurts and the Eagles offense scored on both of their drives during the final team session. Now it was the defense’s turn to stand its ground against the Jets offense.

The defensive starters already halted rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, so Hurts was observing the Eagles’ second-team defense versus New York’s second-team offense to close out the final day of joint practices.

With the Jets facing third-and-short in the red zone, Eagles defensive lineman Matt Leo jumped the snap in a timely fashion, executed a nifty spin move and had his arms wrapped around backup quarterback James Morgan, signaling a sack in live game action (tackling isn’t allowed in training camp).

Leo’s sack served as an exclamation point to one final intense practice session ahead of the preseason finale on Friday evening. Hurts leaped for joy, jolted from his spot and joined his teammates as the Eagles mobbed Leo and celebrated on the Jets’ home grass.

“I think it comes down to a mental approach,” Hurts said Tuesday. “Am I attacking every day? Am I doing the things I need to grow, am I learning from my mistakes? I think we’ve gotten different looks from the Patriots and Jets [in joint practices]. It comes down to learning from those things. The overall goal is to take those steps every day.”

Given the intensity of these joint practices, Wednesday might have been Hurts’ last time throwing against an opposing team’s defense until the season opener Sept. 12 at Atlanta.

Traditionally, starters typically don’t play in the preseason finale. But this year’s preseason is different from past preseasons because there are only three exhibitions rather than four. Nick Sirianni hasn’t announced whether his starters will play against the Jets on Friday night at MetLife Stadium.

“This is a brand-new territory we’re in,” the Eagles’ first-year coach said. “We don’t plan on taking two weeks off before Atlanta. We plan on working our tails off that week. We know what the week is going to look like before Atlanta. Very similar to a week is going to look like in Week 4 or Week 7. That week is spelled out.

“We’re still talking through [playing time vs. Jets]. Still evaluating. Got really good work in joint practices. Guys are sore. We know that.”

» READ MORE: Eagles view joint practices with Patriots as a welcome change of pace

Sirianni will make decisions with guidance from general manager Howie Roseman, although he insists input from players also will be considered. It’s worth remembering Hurts said he would have started last Thursday against the Patriots if it had been a regular-season game. The second-year quarterback instead spent the evening at a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a stomach illness.

Ultimately, Hurts didn’t miss any additional practice time.

“Everybody’s opinion is taken into consideration,” Sirianni said. “We listen to everybody. We’ve got to listen to the player and hear what they’re thinking, too. Group effort in everything. But at the end of the day, I know my name is on it and I got to do what I think is best for the football team.”

If Hurts indeed sits Friday, he will have only played two series in the preseason. Hurts played in the preseason opener against the Steelers, completing 3 of 7 passes for 54 yards. At the time, Sirianni gave him a glowing review and said Hurts was in complete command of the offense.

The Eagles are 0-2 in exhibition games. However, Sirianni has labeled the two weeks’ worth of joint practices against the Patriots and Jets as important as any preseason games. That line of thinking could certainly affect his decisions heading into Friday.

“We’re going to work our tails off that two weeks before the regular-season opener,” Sirianni said. “We are going to work hard in that time frame. It’s all case by case of what we are going to do. I love this work that we’re getting.

“With these [four] joint practices and the three preseason games – to me, that’s seven preseason games in my mind of how we’ve been working.”

Added starting defensive lineman Javon Hargrave: “The work is just beginning. There’s still two more weeks. We still have a lot of practices left.”