In a perfect world, Jalen Hurts would have gotten somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,000 snaps in Nick Sirianni’s offense this spring and been ready to hit the ground running when training camp starts in seven weeks.

But there was nothing perfect about this NFL spring. COVID-19 gave the geniuses who run the players union an excuse to eliminate spring OTAs. So, instead of 10 days of practices with live seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills, Hurts and the Eagles had to settle for virtual meetings and walk-throughs, for which Sirianni had to negotiate with the team leaders.

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The one consolation for Hurts is his familiarity with the team’s new 34-year-old quarterbacks coach, Brian Johnson. Hurts’ father, Averion, was one of Johnson’s coaches at Baytown Lee (Texas) High School. Johnson has known Hurts since Hurts was 4 years old. Even before the Eagles hired Johnson, Hurts referred to him as “Coach Brian.”

“I’ve known his dad since I was 15,” Johnson said. “I have memories of Jalen running round the fieldhouse when I was a high school player. We’d come back home from college in the summer for workouts, and his dad was running the weight program. So, both Jalen and his [older] brother would be in the fieldhouse.

“Once I got into coaching at Utah, I would go and visit his dad’s school after he became a head coach, and recruit. Throughout the years we actually built a great relationship.

“When Jalen was in high school and I was coaching at Mississippi State, we recruited him really hard and tried to get him there. But he ended up going to Alabama and having a great college career.”

The Eagles hired Johnson because he was one of college football’s top young offensive minds and teachers, not because he knew Hurts. But that connection probably didn’t hurt.

The NFL jump

The Eagles are Johnson’s first NFL job. But his success as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at SEC schools Mississippi State (where he coached Dak Prescott) and Florida earned him two Division I head-coaching interviews late last year (South Carolina and Boise State).

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“Ultimately, this is the highest level of football,” Johnson, a former star quarterback at the University of Utah, said when asked why he made the jump to the NFL. “I was excited for a new challenge. I felt at this point of my career, in terms of myself and my family, it was a great decision to make the jump to the highest level of football.”

Florida head coach Dan Mullen, a Drexel Hill native and former all-conference tight end at Ursinus, thinks Johnson’s personal relationship with Hurts will be a great benefit to the second-year quarterback.

The Eagles hired Johnson because he was one of college football’s top young offensive minds and teachers, not because he knew Hurts. But that connection probably didn’t hurt.

“I also think Brian’s background with running the spread-option type of stuff is going to help a running-style quarterback like Jalen,” Mullen said in an interview with The Inquirer in February. “I think that’s definitely something he’ll be bringing to the table.”

Hurts, who made four starts as a rookie last season, was effective as a runner. He rushed for 354 yards on 63 carries and had 25 rushing first downs.

But he was inconsistent as a passer, completing just 52% of his attempts. Hurts had a 69.7% completion rate at Oklahoma in 2019 when he led the Sooners to the college football final four. But the NFL game is a lot faster than the college game.

“The biggest thing in terms of accuracy is developing your feet and your eyes and making sure everything is in concert with your target, and just having a great understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish as an offense,” Johnson said.

“I’ve been extremely pleased with how he’s handled the install, both he and Joe [Flacco], in terms of learning the offense and coming in fully prepared and putting us in position to hit the ground running once we get to training camp.”

Hurts looks good

While Johnson has known Hurts a long time, this spring was the first time he actually had a chance to work with him. He came away impressed.

“Obviously, everybody knows about his intangibles and what type of player and person he is,” Johnson said. “He’s extremely coachable. He wants to be a great player. He works extremely hard at his craft. He’s very serious about becoming a great player. It’s been a pleasure being out on the grass with him.”

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While the Eagles weren’t able to do any seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 drills this spring, they did do individual work.

“You’re not going against a live defense, but you do get a chance to see some routes on air,” Johnson said. “And, really, from a mental standpoint, [you’re able to see] what their capacity for learning is.

“Guys have done a great job of learning the system and coming in and really studying on their own and asking the right questions and being prepared and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish as an offense in terms of the install.”