Jonathan Gannon couldn’t believe it.
During Saturday’s practice, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator watched as some of his linemen wrecked plays, pushed the pocket and constantly chased Jalen Hurts. On some, Nick Sirianni didn’t call them sacks.
“That’s an offensive win?!?” Gannon said.
So Sirianni had to explain it.
“Jonathan, you guys got that push in the pocket, but Jalen has a very unique skill set of being able to scramble and make the play,” Sirianni said.
As lopsided as Saturday’s practice appeared to be, Sirianni didn’t think it was. And a lot of that came down to Hurts’ ability to make something out of nothing. Of course, it’s just hard to quantify that sometimes.
That’s an important thing to remember as training camp wears on and you hear reports about Hurts’ performances — he’s had ups and downs. In a practice setting, Hurts is never going to be able to really show off everything he can do. So much of what could make him a dangerous quarterback is his ability to run when it’s designed and when it’s not.
The Eagles have completely installed their offense and we’ve seen some designed QB runs, read-option looks and even RPOs in the scheme. But for the most part, Hurts in practice stands back and delivers passes. It’s important that he improves as a pocket passer but while he’s doing that in training camp, it’s key to remember that his running ability isn’t always top of mind.
“Sure, that was my point to Coach Gannon the other day,” Sirianni said. “He’s like, ‘Come on, he was running around back there.’ I said, ‘No one was close to him, and that's one of his major skills is his ability to run.’ When we look at a quarterback, we're looking at his decision-making. We're looking at his accuracy. We're looking at his ability to create, and we're looking at his leadership abilities, to name four things. And arm strength, we're always looking at that and fundamentals and stuff like that. But those four things are critical.
“So we know that to be a full package as a quarterback, you've got to have all those things, and I'm glad he has that ability to run because not everybody has that.”
We saw those legs in action during Hurts’ four starts last year. Against the Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys and Washington in the last quarter of the season, Hurts had 272 rushing yards. If he were to average that much per game over a 17-game season, we’re talking about over 1,100 yards on the ground for Hurts.
That kind of production can’t be seen when he’s wearing a red jersey in early August.
I think back to 2019, when the Eagles hosted the Ravens for joint practices. Lamar Jackson was entering his second NFL season and I was really looking forward to watching him perform. During those open practices, I remember thinking that Jackson didn’t impress me at all. Then he went on to be the NFL MVP that season, throwing for over 3,100 yards and rushing for another 1,200.
So much of Jackson’s game couldn’t be shown in a practice setting either. This isn’t to compare Jackson and Hurts, but they do share that dual threat ability. Seeing Jackson’s transformation from practice to games was a good lesson.
Even though we haven’t seen the full effect of Hurts’ running ability, the Eagles are clearly planning on making it a big part of their offense. They have shown some misdirection looks and even if a play doesn’t call on Hurts to become a ball carrier, just the threat of his legs will be used as a decoy.
As far as RPOs, they’re going to be a part of the offense too. Sirianni admitted he doesn’t have a long history with those plays but picked up some tips from Frank Reich over the last three years and has been leaning on some of his other coaches like passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
For whatever reason, Sirianni has refused to name Hurts his starting quarterback but no one is fooled. Barring a blockbuster trade, Hurts is going to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback on Sept. 12 in Atlanta.
And he’s not just gonna stay in the pocket.
As the Eagles go through practice this month, they know that.
“The wise man avoids all extremes,” Sirianni said. “You can't just say, ‘Everything has to be on rhythm,’ or, ‘Everything has to be a run.’ We're trying to get him to play in some rhythm while still using his talents as a runner. It's calling the plays and running plays that we think that he has a chance to be successful at.
“So right now, it's still figuring out does he like the stuff over the middle? Does he like the stuff to the sideline? Does he like stuff over the ball? Does he like to be on the move? Again, it's just figuring out what those plays are and continuing to rep them.”
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