Jalen Hurts agreed that the identity of the 2021 Eagles starting quarterback is “a great question,” but it was one Hurts declined to give his thoughts on, when the QB who led the team for the final four games of 2020 was interviewed Tuesday afternoon online by CBS Sports HQ.
After chuckling and congratulating host Chris Hassel on the quality of his query, Hurts said: “I’ll tell you that I’m putting a lot of work in on my end, trying to build up relationships with my guys, excited for this offseason, just excited to take that next step. So, regardless of what’s what, I’m challenging myself to be the best quarterback I can be. Learn from my mistakes. As a team, learn from our mistakes.”
Hurts, a second-round rookie, replaced Carson Wentz at halftime of the Dec. 6 loss at Green Bay and took the helm the rest of the way, completing 52% of his passes for six touchdowns, with four interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating.
Everyone wants to know what new Eagles coach Nick Sirianni will do, after emerging from an interview process in which the topic of “fixing Wentz” was prominent. Sirianni has given no clues, saying he is just starting to evaluate personnel. There have been reports that Wentz isn’t sure he wants to stay with the team that drafted him second overall in 2016.
Sirianni’s new quarterbacks coach is former University of Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Johnson played for Hurts’ father, Averion Hurts, in high school, then tried to recruit Hurts when Johnson was at Mississippi State, where Johnson coached Dak Prescott. A lot of people see the hiring of Johnson as an indication that the needle is swinging toward Hurts, though Johnson was credited at Florida with developing 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback Kyle Trask, who is much more like Wentz than like Hurts.
“Coach Brian is like family -- I’ve known him since I was 4 years old,” Hurts said Tuesday. “My dad actually coached him at Baytown [Texas] Lee High School. I grew up watching him play. Got a lot of love for him. Crazy how it works. He was actually recruiting me to go play at Mississippi State, when Dak left.”
Hurts said when he left Alabama to play his final year of college ball at Oklahoma, he considered transferring to Florida instead.
“So now it’s kinda all fell into the right place, I guess, so I’m excited to be working with him,” said Hurts, who was speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the season.
Another CBS interviewer, former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell, noted that Hurts has been involved in quarterback competitions at Alabama, where Tua Tagovailoa ultimately won out, and now with the Eagles. Kanell wondered if it was different in the NFL, with money hanging in the balance. Hurts observed that big-time college football is as much of a business as the NFL.
“The main thing I can control is my work ethic, my effort, where my head’s at,” Hurts said. “The relationships I have with those around me, and just building -- building as a man, building as a player, and always being rooted in my faith.”
Neither Hasell nor Kanell asked very much of what any Philadelphia-area reporter would have asked, if given a chance to talk to Hurts. What does he make of Sirianni, after talking to him? Did Sirianni tell him he would get a chance to start? Has Hurts been in contact with Wentz since the end of the season? Does he have any idea of what the new offense will be like? Does Hurts see Johnson’s hiring as a nod toward Hurts?
One of the stranger aspects of the Hurts-Wentz drama is that Hurts surely knows better than most people how Wentz feels right now. Hurts was benched at halftime of the national championship game following the 2017 season, in favor of Tagovailoa, who rallied the Crimson Tide to victory over Georgia. Hurts backed up Tagovailoa in 2018 before leaving for what turned out to be an extraordinary season at Oklahoma.
Asked Tuesday about his handling of getting benched in such a high-profile spot, Hurts said: “I was definitely hurting. I’m a competitor. I want to go out there and win. I look back on that game, and I think about a few games where maybe I’ve been behind and I’ve come back to win or put myself in a position to do that.”
Hurts said he knew that “the whole world was watching, and I tried to just handle myself with the right type of humility. Be supportive. I have a lot of love and respect for Tua, and I’m wishing him nothing but the best in his career with the Miami Dolphins.”
Hurts was asked what he needs to improve on, to win the Eagles’ starting job.
“Levelling up on every part of my game, building those relationships with the coaches we have, and seeing it how they see it. I think that’s always pivotal,” Hurts said. “Ultimately, I think, creating an identity [for the offense]. Having an identity for what we want to be, how they want to go about it. That’s a big point for me, and I think that’ll help me as well as a player.”
Hurts said similar things in his final interview of the season, when Doug Pederson was still coaching the Eagles.
Hurts adroitly handled a question about his loyalties as an alum of both Alabama and Oklahoma. Asked if he says “Roll Tide” or “Boomer Sooner,” Hurts said he likes to say “Roll Sooner.”