Jalen Hurts’ birthday got off to an iffy start.
The 23-year-old quarterback has had what most would consider an up-and-down training camp so far, but turned in his worst day yet during a Saturday practice.
He threw a head-scratching interception to linebacker Eric Wilson during team drills, nearly threw another to Alex Singleton, and struggled to complete passes against the Eagles’ first-team defense for most of the day. There were several apparent miscues that led to errant passes to receivers, including one to Jalen Reagor in the middle of the field, and on several occasions, Hurts’ red jersey saved him from would-be sacks.
Even during the routes-on-air portion of practice, Hurts had a few misplaced passes on deep routes, either overthrowing or underthrowing a few targets.
Eagles running back Boston Scott said the offense had chances to make plays while facing man coverage, but failed to get anything going.
“I think we started slow,” Scott said after practice. “I think we started slow, we had some opportunities, man-to-man, to make some plays and we just gotta continue to work on our fundamentals.”
The Eagles’ defense had the advantage early in training camp, but that’s to be expected considering how many moving parts offenses have to work out compared to their defensive counterparts.
It’s not time to sound the alarm just yet, of course. It’s only fair to point out the second-year quarterback is without his top receiver, first-round rookie DeVonta Smith as he recovers from a sprained MCL. John Hightower, the team’s fifth-round pick in last year’s draft, went on the injury report Saturday with a groin injury that’s considered week-to-week. Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins were in the lineup Saturday, but both missed some time early in camp.
Still, nine days in, the offensive struggles, particularly Hurts’, are enough to cause slight concern.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said the first eight days of practice were designated for offensive installation, meaning the group spent each practice before Saturday’s working on new concepts and running through the various plays in the first-year coach’s new playbook. Saturday was the first day in which the team presumably had a chance to run things with some familiarity, but it didn’t appear to benefit anyone much.
“It’s interesting because week one and through week one is an install,” he said Thursday. “We have eight installs, just so you guys know. We have eight installs and we’re going through those day-by-day. It’s not like we are getting a ton of repeats of install one because you have to get the reps in of what you’re getting at.”
Sirianni and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman have avoided naming Hurts the outright starter even after trading Carson Wentz to Indianapolis earlier this offseason and passing on the chance to add a quarterback early in the draft.
Both Roseman and Sirianni said they wanted Hurts to “take the reins” of the starting job when camp opened up, but Sirianni hasn’t said whether he’s done that yet. The coach offered the details about the team’s install periods when asked to evaluate Hurts, pointing out a more accurate evaluation would start Saturday once the training wheels were off.
“We’ll have more of a feel for [Hurts’ performance] as we continue,” Sirianni said. “I think he’s doing a great job of understanding the offense and learning the offense and getting the reps of the offense, but now as we get in, [Thursday] is our eighth install ... so that will come even more when we start to repeat plays even more as we come into this next week.”
Even though he hasn’t been named the starter, Hurts has taken all the first-team reps at quarterback during OTAs and training camp. Joe Flacco has run exclusively with the second-team and Nick Mullens has led the threes.
That doesn’t mean there’s not an outcome in which Hurts loses the job, it could just be to an outside challenger. The Eagles have been linked to Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson often over the last few months. Watson is the subject of an open criminal investigation and has 22 active civil lawsuits of sexual assault or inappropriate sexual misconduct filed against him. Depending on the outcome of those lawsuits, he could face a lengthy suspension from the league.
The Eagles are monitoring the Watson situation and have interest should a trade make sense, a source familiar with the team’s thinking told The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane. Watson hasn’t been at training camp the last few days, but several media reports indicate a trade isn’t imminent yet.
When asked if he talks about potential trade rumors with Hurts, Sirianni said he talks to each player on the team about handling distractions.
“This is my conversation with Jalen, and this will be my conversation with all the players, ‘How do you get better every single day?’ ” Sirianni said. “And we talk about our core values: Our connect, our compete, our accountability, our football IQ, our fundamentals, and then what are the distractions that don’t allow you to get better every day? The distractions are different for everybody.”