Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson has known Jalen Hurts since the Eagles’ starting quarterback was 4 years old.
So this has been a long time coming.
“It’s very interesting because I’ve known him for a really long time but this was actually my first time getting a chance to work with him on the grass,” Johnson said Tuesday, a few days after the Eagles wrapped up their spring practices.
“Obviously, everyone knows about his intangibles and what type of player and what type of person he is, but 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 and it’s been a pleasure to be out there on the grass with him.”
Johnson grew up in the Houston area and played high school football at Baytown Lee High School, where one of his coaches was Averion Hurts, Jalen’s father. So Johnson remembers a preschool age Jalen Hurts hanging out and running around the field house nearly two decades ago. And Jalen remembers wanting to be like Johnson as a little kid.
Eventually, Johnson went on to play at Utah and then entered the coaching world as Jalen Hurts began his ascent as a player. Johnson even tried to recruit Hurts to Mississippi State when he was their quarterbacks coach; Hurts instead went to Alabama.
So it didn’t work out back then, but Johnson and Hurts developed a strong relationship that ought to help the pair now that they’re finally getting the opportunity to work together in Philly.
“He always talked about getting the chance to coach me,” Hurts said earlier this offseason. “Obviously, me not going to Mississippi State or Florida, that didn’t happen. But now he’s with Philly and I guess it was all meant to be. I know he’s excited. I’m excited. We want to do something special together.”
Johnson, 34, was one of the hottest names in college football after a few seasons with the Gators. While many of the new coaches on staff had deep connections with Nick Sirianni or Jonathan Gannon, Johnson didn’t. He was simply the best candidate for the job and really impressed Sirianni during his interview. Heck, Johnson might be a future head coach in the NFL.
So the Eagles didn’t hire Johnson simply because of his connection to Hurts. Or at all. But that doesn’t mean it won’t help the team, at least in the short-term.
The relationship between Johnson and Hurts has been well-documented since Johnson took the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach position earlier this offseason. But the relationship between those two really began with the relationship between Johnson and Hurts’ father.
There’s an inherent bond between coach and player. Johnson will now get to experience the other side of that with the Hurts family.
“I’ve known Coach (Averion) Hurts since I was 15 years old and he’s always been someone that I’ve had a ton of respect for, not only as a coach but as a father as well,” Johnson said. “Like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the course of the years, throughout my development as a player and as a coach. He’s someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.”
Hurts, 22, will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in his second NFL season. The Eagles took him at No. 53 last season but didn’t plan on making him their starter until the offense looked broken last year and Doug Pederson ultimately decided to bench Carson Wentz. Now, Pederson is gone, Wentz is gone and Hurts is the incumbent starter under Sirianni, who will mold his offense to fit Hurts’ strengths.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Hurts will be the Eagles’ long-term starter. They’ll likely have three first-round picks next year, plenty of ammo to find their next franchise quarterback if Hurts doesn’t prove to be the guy.
In order for Hurts to prove he can be that franchise quarterback, he’ll need to improve his accuracy. It was a small sample size in 2020, and he was pushing the ball down the field, but Hurts completed just 52% of his passes last year. That was the worst percentage in the NFL among players with at least 100 passing attempts.
So how can that be fixed?
“I think the biggest thing in terms of accuracy is developing your feet and your eyes and making sure that everything’s in concert with your target and having just a great understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish as an offense,” Johnson said. “I’ve been extremely pleased with how he’s handled the installs, both he and Joe, in terms of learning the offense and coming in fully prepared and putting us in a position to hit the ground running once we get to training camp.”
While Johnson came to the Eagles after a few seasons at Florida and one at Houston, he really made a name for himself as the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State from 2014-16, when he coached Dak Prescott.
Prescott wasn’t a first-round pick (he was a 4th-rounder in 2016) but has become a very good starting quarterback for the Cowboys and is unquestionably their franchise guy.
The hope in Philly is that Hurts can follow a similar path. If he does, the relationship between he and Johnson will likely play a major role.
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