PHILADELPHIA – Jalen Hurts has only a handful of training camp practices under his belt as he enters his second NFL season and what he hopes is his first full campaign as starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. But already, veteran teammates have recognized growth and signs that lead them to believe Hurts can play at a high level.
Hurts is the Eagles’ 2020 second-round pick, who late last season unseated Carson Wentz as the starter and showed enough promise to convince Philly brass to trade Wentz to Indianapolis in the offseason.
Hurts has impressed coaches with his work ethic, and although he is still learning head coach Nick Sirianni’s offense, the quarterback has displayed a good understanding of his responsibilities.
Teammates say Hurts carries himself with poise and confidence that represents an improvement over last season, when he was still feeling his way along as a rookie.
“You can see he’s made a jump from Year 1 to Year 2,” 10th-year veteran defensive lineman Fletcher Cox told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s the third day of practice, but you can see he’s getting rid of the ball, moving around and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Hurts received praise from Sirianni for his execution, particularly during Friday’s red zone portion of practice. Execution inside the 20 can prove challenging because the shorter field lends itself to fewer openings and less reaction time. However, Hurts made quick decisions and threw with accuracy.
“I saw some really good, great throws, like big-time throws,” Sirianni told reporters the following day. “He had one to (tight end) Dallas (Goedert) in this corner of the end zone right here, in the right corner of the end zone, and he also had one to (tight end) Jason Croom that he made a play off a scramble.”
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Hurts’ mobility poses a threat to defenses, and that certainly was evident in the red zone. On the touchdown pass to Croom, Hurts scrambled out of the pocket with protection breaking down and all of his receivers covered. When the quarterback appeared intent on running, the linebackers froze, and that created the narrow opening Hurts needed. He rifled the ball into the back of the end zone to Croom, whose defender had lost him in coverage when distracted by the threat of the Hurts run.
“Just seeing that play-making ability, and that was great to see in that red zone day the other day,” Sirianni added. “So, just want to continue to cut out any mistakes that he's making and continue to make those plays that he's making and just see how special he is with the ball in his hands.”
Sirianni earning respect
Earning the trust of players ranks among the top priorities for any head coach, but especially for rookie coaches like Sirianni.
The 40-year-old landed the Eagles gig this offseason after serving as the Colts' offensive coordinator for three seasons. The Jamestown, New York, native previously held various roles with the Chiefs and Chargers from 2009 to 2017 after five seasons of experience as a position coach on the collegiate level.
This represents Sirianni’s first head-coaching position on any level. However, after his first impressions during the offseason program and the way he built on that foundation in training camp, players are starting to buy in.
On the field, players describe him as high-energy and intentional. Sirianni has impressed veterans by seeking their feedback on some of the best ways to effectively map out training camp practice schedules. He earned points with some of his most senior charges by giving most veterans the day off on Friday to provide time for their bodies to rest and recover after two strenuous acclimation practice sessions.
Sirianni has high standards for practice, however. At one point on Friday, he stopped practice, called the entire 90-man roster together in a huddle and lectured them on sloppy play.
“I think we had gotten off to a slower start than we had the previous couple days,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “So he wanted to bring attention to that and say, ‘Hey, this can be a microcosm of the NFL season at times where you have your ups, you have your downs, what are you going to do when you get off to a slow start, you have to pick yourself up.’ ... I think we finished the practice stronger than we started.”
Sirianni also has set an early competitive tone. Each day, he and the coaches keep a tally of positive or negative plays for the offense and defense, then announce after practice which unit won the day. Players say they have enjoyed the additional competition element.
DeVonta Smith catching on early
Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith has flashed early in training camp, displaying great speed, good hands and acrobatic catching ability.
The 10th pick of the draft, Smith has wasted little time reconnecting with Hurts, his teammate at Alabama in 2017.
As a two-time national champion and the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, Smith's resume is well-known by his teammates. But he has surprised them with his approach.
“He always has a plan,” cornerback Darius Slay, a ninth-year veteran, said of Smith. “For him to be that young and the way he understands the game, that's good for him.”
Slay said Smith regularly picks his brain on techniques, coverages and how to beat defensive backs in one-on-one matchups.
“I've been telling him, 'Any questions you need to ask me to find a way how to beat me and beat other DBs, just ask’,” Slay said.
Wide receiver has ranked among one of the Eagles’ area of weakness in recent years. However, Smith seems poised to help solve that problem.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jalen Hurts impresses coach with 'big-time throws': Eagles notebook