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Jalen Hurts steps into the spotlight, mindful of a ‘great opportunity’ as Eagles’ youngest starting QB since 1964

“My role has changed this week, but the preparation and the hard work has not,” Hurts said. His teammates pledged unity, but overall their reactions to the change in quarterbacks varied.

Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz weren't avoiding one another at Wednesday's practice, Hurts' first as the Eagles' starting quarterback.
Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz weren't avoiding one another at Wednesday's practice, Hurts' first as the Eagles' starting quarterback.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Jalen Hurts’ manner on his first practice day as the Eagles’ starting quarterback was softspoken but solemn.

“My role has changed this week, but the preparation and the hard work has not,” Hurts said. “Carrying on that same mentality that I’ve always had this year, always being ready to answer the phone when it rings. It’s ringing. So, ready to answer it.”

Hurts called getting the start at quarterback this week over Carson Wentz “a great opportunity” and seemed to indicate that he and Wentz were together when Eagles coach Doug Pederson gave them the news Monday night, though when asked to clarify, Hurts said he didn’t “want to get into the specifics of it.”

Hurts, who turned 22 in August, was drafted 53rd overall, in the second round last April. He will be the youngest Eagles starting quarterback since 21-year-old rookie Jack Concannon started two games in 1964. He said his parents are most responsible for him getting to where he is today. His father, Averion Hurts, was his coach at Channelview High in the Houston area.

» READ MORE: Eagles coach Doug Pederson says he’ll help Jalen Hurts with emphasis on run game

Hurts said his parents found out he was starting before he was able to call and tell them.

“You dream of opportunities like this,” said Hurts, who finished his college career at Oklahoma, where he earned a graduate degree, after losing the starting job at Alabama to Tua Tagovailoa. “So I’m just like I always am. My head’s down, and I’m working, and I’m attacking it.”

Hurts came in midway through the third quarter of the Eagles’ 30-16 loss at Green Bay Sunday, rallying a team that was down 20-3 and hadn’t reached the Packers’ red zone under Wentz’s command. He escaped pressure and threw a 32-yard, fourth-and-18 touchdown pass to Greg Ward, Hurts’ first NFL touchdown pass. But he later threw his first NFL interception, and he finished the day 7-for-15 for 109 yards.

Hurts had played just 33 snaps all season going into Green Bay, going 3-for-3 for 33 yards. Hurts has run the ball 17 times for 85 yards.

“I just want to earn the respect of my teammates,” said Hurts, who said he didn’t think until he was entering the facility Wednesday about what he was wearing for his first press conference as the starter – a Houston Astros shirt and hat. “I got my Philly stuff now. ... I’m a little diverse. Can’t forget where I come from, though,” he said. He clarified that the sign he made with his fingers after throwing the touchdown pass Sunday was not “Horns Up,” for the Texas Longhorns, but “H-town.”

Interviews with other Eagles Wednesday illustrated the delicacy of the situation. Center Jason Kelce issued a blistering jeremiad about the failure of the entire offense, including coaches. He clearly did not like the implication that Wentz might be scapegoated.

“I think that, at the end of the day, this is the culmination of a lot of failures on offense,” said Kelce, who added that he didn’t think management’s decision to draft Hurts was why Wentz has struggled. “This more comes down to a failure of pretty much every position, including the coaches, to facilitate a functioning offense, and that’s the biggest story here, not that Jalen Hurts was picked and there was some sort of internal battle and struggle going on with Carson Wentz. I don’t buy that.”

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was asked about his “liking” of a tweet indicating that Wentz should be the Eagles’ quarterback after the switch to Hurts was announced.

“This is the NFL, and things happen. Carson, he’s my best friend. He’s my guy. I’ve always had his back since Day 1,” Cox said. “Jalen, he’s my teammate also, you know? I support whoever’s in there. ... It sucks for a guy like Carson to be put in that position because it never just comes down to one guy. There’s 11 guys on the field.

“With that being said, my tweet is my tweet, and I stand with it.”

Cox then said there would be “no locker room divide.”

» READ MORE: Jason Kelce says Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and rest of offense have stunk as badly as Carson Wentz | Marcus Hayes

Wide receivers Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward are younger than Kelce and Cox. They know Hurts from the college football wars, Reagor went to TCU, Ward to Houston, where he was a quarterback, and they seemed less bothered by the switch.

“He’s a very funny guy. I mean, he’s a very laid-back guy, like myself,” Reagor said when asked about his fellow rookie. “We click. We kind of share the same kind of personality. We joke a lot.

“A lot of people don’t really know about the things we do outside of football because we’re pretty laid-back guys. We like to chill. He’s a pretty good guy. He really doesn’t do too much. He’s about his business, about his work. And I’m pretty confident in him.”

Ward acknowledged that the move surprised him. Asked about his relationship with Hurts, he said, “Me and Jalen are very tight. We talk a lot. We communicate a lot, just about everything – life, football. It doesn’t really matter. And I’m very excited for his opportunity.”

Pederson said Wednesday that he wants Hurts “to just go out there this week and obviously take control of the huddle, like quarterbacks do, and just lead the way he knows how.

“I can think about when I played. They said, ‘Hey, don’t go be Brett Favre. Be Doug Pederson.’ So, that’s my message to him. Be Jalen Hurts and do the things that he can do.”

Pederson has not given Hurts a mandate beyond Sunday, when he will make his starting debut against a 10-2 team that is giving up the fewest yards (288.8) and fourth-fewest points (20.1) per game. The 3-8-1 Eagles are seven-point home underdogs.

“Fast, physical football team. They play really hard,” Hurts said. “We’re playing against a great defense, and we need to do what we can to control the controllables. Control our effort. Control our execution. Control our mindset, and go into it the right way, and play a hard-fought game.

» READ MORE: Doug Pederson makes the QB switch from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts to get the Eagles ‘over the hump’

“I just want to go in there and execute and move around with good urgency. I think the most important thing right now is how we practice, and what we do during the week. How we practice is a direct reflection of how we’ll play on Sunday. Today, we had a great practice. Going forward, we need to do the same thing. Be locked in and believing in every person on the field and having that trust as a unit.”

Talkin’ bout practice

Cox (neck), T.J. Edwards (hamstring), Rudy Ford (hamstring) and Michael Jacquet (hamstring) didn’t practice Wednesday. Alshon Jeffery (calf), Jason Peters (toe) and Darius Slay (knee) were limited, the Eagles said.