Despite several attempts to obtain clarity on Jalen Hurts, Nick Sirianni remained resolute about the second-year quarterback’s status: He will compete for the Eagles’ starting job. He’s done well in learning the new offense despite limited opportunities. And any discussion about his long-term future is premature.
“I’m not even to that point right now of what 2022′s going to look like, to be honest with you,” Sirianni said Friday during a video news conference. “It’s such a long process.”
Indeed. Sirianni has yet to even see Hurts on the practice field, even if the start of rookie camp Friday offered a soft opening for the new Eagles coach. But he and his coaches have finished constructing their playbooks -- or at least the bulk of them -- and what is in or not in the offense could go a long way in dictating Hurts’ success in 2021.
Despite a narrative from some corners that the Eagles haven’t shown enough of a commitment to the former second-round draft pick, the team’s offseason moves at quarterback -- or lack thereof -- said plenty. Hurts will be the No. 1, free-agent veteran Joe Flacco will be the No. 2, and beyond this season is yet to be determined.
The Eagles are clearly prepared, with possibly three first-round picks, to acquire a replacement high in the draft or via trade next offseason. But it’s not as if general manager Howie Roseman and Sirianni sent discouraging messages to Hurts with their actions the last several months.
They hired Brian Johnson, who has known the Texas native since he was 4, as quarterbacks coach. They expended their first-round selection on receiver DeVonta Smith. And, most important, they didn’t acquire a quarterback who would supplant him, although Flacco will provide the nominal competition.
Yes, reports linking the Eagles to DeShaun Watson persist -- more so, for next offseason -- but what has Hurts done to garner more than a one-year tryout? He showed enough promise in four starts last season to succeed the traded Carson Wentz. But Sirianni has a vote, as well, and will likely need to see Hurts in his offense for an extended period before reaching any conclusions.
“Jalen’s done a heck of a job learning the offense, I’ll say that,” Sirianni said. “He’s impressive in there. He’s really got a good control of it. When we’re in these virtual meetings doing virtual walk-throughs … Jalen’s just done a good job of taking the plays that have been taught to him.
“He can rattle off exactly what he’s supposed to do on every single play.”
But knowing and doing are two separate things. The Colts offense that Sirianni is expected to incorporate was vast enough to accommodate three disparate quarterbacks in Indianapolis -- Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers -- in three seasons. But will there be enough in there for Hurts?
“I don’t believe that’s good coaching, when you just say, ‘Here’s our offense and let’s go. You learn it,’” Sirianni said. “That’s just not good offensive football. … Of course, Jalen has strong qualities of being able to extend plays and move around.
“So we’re definitely looking at those things and doing those things.”
Sirianni’s offense, like most in the current NFL, won’t be based on a traditional system like the West Coast or Air Coryell. Frank Reich’s scheme with the Colts could accurately be described as “multiple,” with the former Eagles offensive coordinator piecing together an offense that he took from his stops as player and coach.
He also took from his assistants, like Sirianni, and from Rivers, who preferred some of the deep passing concepts he learned under Norv Turner. But the deep over plays -- “dovers” as Sirianni called them during a film review he did with the Eagles’ website last month -- were always a part of the Colts’ base offense.
“It didn’t matter if it was Jacoby, if it was Andrew, or if it was Philip,” Sirianni said, “we were running these plays in Indianapolis.”
But they ran them much more with the latter two than with Brissett, who struggled to throw downfield. Hurts’ lack of accuracy downfield -- at least based upon a small NFL sample -- would suggest that deep crossing routes won’t be his forte. His tendency to scramble if his first few reads aren’t open won’t help either.
When Sirianni first started installing the offense with his coaches, there wasn’t much in terms of the quarterback read run game or run-pass option plays, two team sources said. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland brought some of that package into the fold, but it remains to be seen whether Sirianni scripts game plans for Hurts that favor those plays.
“All great players in their own right, all like to do things differently, though, right?” Sirianni said during the film breakdown. “And our job as coaches is to adapt to the players we have, and run the plays they like, but we also have a system.”
Sirianni stressed the importance of creating explosive plays. But there are other ways to generate chunk yards than just airing the ball out. The Colts offense was also designed to get it out quick and create yards after the catch.
Those plays have a shelf life over the course of a game, but if you have the weapons -- and the Eagles have a few established ones (Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert) and a few potential ones (Jalen Reagor and Smith) -- the short passing game could benefit Hurts.
Brissett has mobility, but quarterback reads and RPOs were just one facet of the system Reich and Sirianni included for him. The reasons for his struggles in 2019 were manifold, but his limitations as a thrower were the most prominent.
Hurts completed just 52% of his passes in his rookie season. He will need to improve his repetitive accuracy -- perhaps the most important trait for an NFL quarterback. No matter how much Sirianni caters his scheme to Hurts, there are certain downfield throws he will need to make if he is to thrive.
But it would be foolish to try to jam an athletic quarterback into a traditional offense. While there is still a question as to whether mobile quarterbacks give teams a better chance at winning Super Bowls than pocket passers, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray have challenged that notion.
And even if the bones of Sirianni’s offense are conventional, the best schemes are living, breathing, and evolving creations. The future hasn’t been written and certainly not in regard to Hurts.