When the Eagles opened training camp two weeks ago at the NovaCare Complex, Nick Sirianni was asked what he wanted to see from Jalen Hurts.
The first-year head coach said he wanted to see Hurts “take the reins and roll with it.”
Two weeks into camp, we’re still waiting for that to happen. Doesn’t mean it won’t. Just means it hasn’t yet. Hurts has been inconsistent in the Eagles’ first 11 training camp practices, including Tuesday’s when he missed a number of throws from the pocket in 11-on-11 work.
Meanwhile, 1,500 miles to the southwest in Houston, the Texans announced that their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who is currently facing multiple allegations of sexual assault, probably won’t be making the trip to Green Bay for their first preseason game Saturday against the Packers.
Watson’s absence fuels speculation that he could be traded any minute.
Twenty-two women are suing Watson in civil court for sexual misconduct or assault, and Houston police are currently investigating Watson.
A lot of teams who otherwise might have been interested in Watson are not pursuing a trade because of the allegations. But apparently that’s not the case with the Eagles.
According to multiple league sources, they remain interested in the three-time Pro Bowler. That doesn’t mean something is going to happen, but it does mean the Eagles aren’t yet ready to hand the keys to their offense over to Hurts.
Assuming nothing happens with Watson in the next two days, Sirianni hopes to get a better read on Hurts in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Linc. The quarterback will finally get to shed his red practice jersey and face a live pass rush.
“I got on [coaches assistant] Tyler [Scudder] the other day,” Sirianni said. “Tyler is the one who blows the whistle on sacks in practice.
“I thought a couple of them were premature. But there won’t be any two-hand touch on Thursday. So we’ll get a better idea” of how Hurts deals with pressure and is able to avoid the rush.
Hurts will start Thursday, with Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens also playing. Sirianni wouldn’t say how long he’ll go with Hurts and the rest of the first-team offense.
Hurts’ running ability is a huge part of his game. He rushed for 354 yards and 25 rushing first downs on 63 carries as a rookie. In his four starts at the end of the season, he carried the ball 47 times, including 18 for 106 yards in a 24-21 Week 14 upset over the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints in his first NFL start.
But if Hurts is going to be the Eagles’ long-term starter, he needs to develop as a passer, particularly from the pocket.
“A wise man avoids all extremes,” Sirianni said. “It can’t be all rhythm [passes] and it can’t be all scrambles. So it’s like, ‘What’s the happy medium there?’”
The Eagles plan to use run-pass options this season. How much remains to be seen. RPOs were a big part of Oklahoma’s offense two seasons ago with Hurts when he threw 32 touchdown passes and completed 70% of his attempts. But as Hurts found out last year in his four season-ending starts, the NFL game is faster and the throwing windows are smaller.
“Right now, he’s back and forth,” Sirianni said. “He’s getting some good throws on rhythm, but [we] just want to make those numbers grow a little bit. Because we know how valuable of a tool his legs are.
“We’re trying to get him to play in some rhythm while still using his talents as a runner. It’s just calling the plays and running plays that we think that he has a chance to be successful at.
“Right now, we’re still figuring out, does he like the stuff over the middle? Does he like the stuff to the sidelines? Does he like the stuff over the ball? Does he like to be on the move? Again, it’s just figuring out what those plays are and continuing to rep them.”
Sirianni’s offense is the fifth one Hurts has had to learn in the last six years. He clearly picks things up fast, but there are going to be inevitable growing pains, not just for Hurts, but for the rest of the offense as well.
“This is another new offense for me,” Hurts said. “It isn’t easy, but it’s something you have to overcome. It’s something you have to grow comfortable in and you have to find a way to do that fast.
“I think everybody around here knows I’ve been able to adapt and adjust to a lot of different situations.”
Hurts is dangerous outside the pocket. But you can’t ad-lib everything in the NFL. You have to be able to stand in the pocket and go through your progressions and make the right decisions and accurate throws.
Hurts said his decision-making is getting better with every practice and film session.
“I think repetition brings comfort and confidence,” he said. “These are valuable reps that I’m getting right now and we’re trying to capitalize on it and take advantage of it. I think it’s been an uphill climb for us.”
One area where Hurts doesn’t need any improvement is his leadership. Players gravitate toward the Houston native. He is a natural leader.
“He’s a great leader,” said veteran center Jason Kelce. “He has a great attitude about him. All he wants to do is win. All he wants to do is compete and beat the team across from him. You can feel that each and every day. When it doesn’t go that way, you can feel his frustration.
“I really like his intangibles. I really like how he goes about his work. Now it’s just [learning] some new plays and [adjusting to] new coaches. We’re starting from scratch again. But that work ethic and who he is as a person will carry him through that.”