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Burning questions from Eagles camp: Can Hurts, Ertz, and the blitz make a difference?

Change happens fast in the NFL, and Eagles fans will experience that firsthand under new coach Nick Sirianni. Camp starts Wednesday. Buckle up everybody. It's going to be a wild ride.

Will Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts be the star the team is looking for?
Will Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts be the star the team is looking for?Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

In less than 48 hours, the Eagles will officially begin training camp with their first practice scheduled for Wednesday morning at NovaCare Complex.

Change happens fast in the NFL, and Philadelphia will experience that firsthand under new coach Nick Sirianni. Here is a look at some of the most pressing issues surrounding the team as it begins camp.

Is Jalen Hurts the long-term answer at quarterback?

All eyes will be on Hurts. The 2020 second-round pick will be viewed through a microscope from NFL pundits and fans alike.

During four starts last season, Hurts completed 52% of his throws for 1,061 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 354 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest questions hovering over him are his accuracy and efficiency as a passer.

Hurts should benefit from the addition of his former Alabama teammate and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner whom the Eagles tabbed with their top draft pick at No. 10. Hurts and Smith already boast familiarity with each other and the duo worked out together multiple times throughout the offseason.

While Hurts appears to be the starter at the beginning of camp with Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens behind him on the depth chart, it’s worth remembering general manager Howie Roseman’s aggressiveness in relation to the quarterback position. Just three years removed from winning a Super Bowl, Roseman might do just about anything to accelerate the Eagles’ rebuild under Sirianni.

“Howie will give up everything he has for [Deshaun] Watson,” an NFL source told The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane in March.

Four months later, Roseman’s thinking is believed to be unchanged, according to a high-level league source who spoke to The Inquirer this week. The climate across the NFC East — how open the division appears for the taking — could also factor into Philadelphia’s thinking.

We might be in the final moments of the offseason, but don’t rule out any big, franchise-altering moves from Roseman. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles remained interested in pursuing one of the league’s elite, unhappy and embattled quarterbacks.

For now, Hurts is in control.

Keeping pulse on Ertz’s situation

Following an offseason that featured a ton of trade chatter around tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles stood pat and the three-time Pro Bowler is now expected to report to training camp, according to multiple reports.

Ertz, 30, who is entering the final season of his five-year, $42.5 million contract, skipped voluntary spring workouts, which led to more doubts about his status with the team. However, a training camp holdout for Ertz could get costly in a hurry. The penalty is $50,000 per day for any player who misses camp.

After the Eagles and Ertz failed to agree on an extension prior to last season, Ertz produced the worst statistical year of his career: 36 catches, 335 receiving yards, and just one touchdown.

Historically, both parties have expressed their openness in a potential trade, while Roseman is adamant that Ertz still has plenty of production left. The Eagles could save around $8.5 million in cap space if they trade or release Ertz. Still, it’s telling the calendar is about to read August and Ertz is still in an Eagles uniform. His value could increase if another team loses a top tight end to injury in training camp, but Ertz also risks potential injury himself each time he steps onto the field, beginning this week.

With or without Ertz, Philadelphia seems poised to elevate fellow tight end Dallas Goedert into a more prominent role. Over the past three seasons, Goedert, 26, has recorded 137 catches for 1,465 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

How often will the Eagles blitz? What about emphasizing turnovers?

Following the departures of head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Jonathan Gannon has followed Sirianni from Indianapolis to Philadelphia, where he takes over as defensive coordinator.

Many Eagles fans thought Schwartz became passive in his final year, so does that mean Gannon will be more aggressive from the beginning? Not entirely. Let Gannon explain.

“When I got here, I didn’t drop a book on the table and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re running,’ " Gannon said in May. “If you actually ask [Sirianni], when we first talked about this when he interviewed me, it was, ‘Hey, what scheme are you going to run?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a scheme.’ And I believe that you have to be adaptable.”

“Those four things — hustle, intensity, takeaway, smart. The acronym for that is the HITS principle, and that’s what we’re going to hold our hat on.”

The Eagles blitzed on 22.2% of dropbacks in 2020, according to Pro Football Reference, which ranked 27th in the league. For context, the Ravens ranked first at 44.1%. Indianapolis, where Gannon served as cornerbacks coach, actually blitzed less frequently than Philadelphia at 17.1%, second-lowest in the NFL.

Gannon credits Vikings coach Mike Zimmer as one of his biggest influencers. Zimmer and Gannon worked together on two different stints with the Falcons in 2007 and with the Vikings from 2014-17. Some recurring themes to Zimmer’s scheme have involved pressure and detailed blitz packages off akin pre-snap looks with rotating pieces across the defensive front.

As camp progresses, we’ll learn more and more about Gannon’s evolving scheme and playbook.

» READ MORE: Eagles sign veteran cornerback Steven Nelson, who will have a good chance to become their CB2

While there are lingering questions about depth, Philadelphia’s defense features defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, defensive end Brandon Graham, linebackers Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton, and cornerbacks Darius Slay and recently acquired cornerback Steven Nelson. It’ll be up to Gannon to maximize their talents and to elevate Philadelphia’s overall production.