PHILADELPHIA — Jalen Hurts knows where his salvation lies.
After a full day of training camp — practice, walk-through, meetings — Hurts on Monday evening sat for 16 minutes and 30 seconds with Ike Reese and Jon Marks, who host the afternoon show on 94-WIP. The conversation was remarkable for its candor and its ease.
Maybe that’s because of the presence of Reese, who spent the first seven seasons of his nine-year career with the Eagles. At any rate, Reese asked Hurts the sort of question Hurts has rebuffed since he landed at Alabama in 2016. This time, Hurts answered. And he answered correctly.
“We all set goals,” Reese began. ”What’s something that you want to improve on?”
“I think processing stuff,” Hurts replied, without hesitation. “Seeing it. And being consistent in that.”
This might not sound particularly revealing, forthcoming, or frank. For Hurts, who generally tosses word salads like a pantry chef, it was the stuff of a confessional.
Hurts, at 6-foot-1, knows he lacks the size advantage of other star quarterbacks: Justin Herbert is 6-6, Josh Allen is 6-5, Joe Burrow is 6-4, and Patrick Mahomes is 6-3. He’s never going to have the arm strength of those players, or even of other studs of lesser stature, like Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray.
But Hurts knows that if he can recognize coverages before the snap, and if he can manipulate defenders during a play, and if he can anticipate windows opening, then he can develop the timing and the accuracy and the mechanics that will compensate for his physical shortcomings.
That’s how Drew Brees got over. That’s how Steve Young got over. That’s Jalen Hurts’ ceiling.
Hurts also knows that, as long as he’s in Philadelphia, where offensive line is king, he’s going to have plenty of time to make decisions. He just needs to make the right ones.
“I think there are games where I played at a really high level last year,” he said. “And then there are games where it wasn’t the same guy from the week before.”
There was no better possible answer.
He didn’t mention completion percentage, which, at 61.3%, ranked 26th out of 29 qualifying QBs. He didn’t mention touchdown passes, which, with 16, ranked him 23rd. He didn’t mention his 87.2 passer rating (22nd), his 48.5 quarterback rating (19th, but a flawed stat), or his 209.6 passing yards per game (27th).
He said he wanted to make the best decision more often, and faster.
Why it matters
It was a wide ranging and surgically performed interview. Hurts spoke to several outlets Tuesday as well, and seemed similarly relaxed, but none of those sessions was as organically fruitful as the radio show. Perhaps it was the presence of Reese, a likable Eagles and NFL alumnus; they belong to the same, exclusive, professional fraternity. Also, Reese has markedly sharpened his interview skills.
Perhaps Hurts was comfortable because of Reese, but then, maybe Hurts is just comfortable for the first time in a long time.
There’s no pressure to carry the Crimson Tide to another national title.
There are no minefields to negotiate in the shadow of his replacement at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa, or former Eagles starter Carson Wentz.
There is no artificial, farcical “competition” for the starting job with Joe Flacco (Joe Flacco!) like the Eagles pretended there was in last year’s training camp.
Whatever the reason, for the first time since landing in 2020 as a second-round pick, Hurts seemed completely at ease. For the first time, he did not seem defensive.
Of course, there are lots of firsts regarding Hurts at this moment.
He hasn’t played for the same offensive staff for two years in a row since he played for his father, Averion Hurts, at Channelview High School outside of Houston. True, when you play for Nick Saban at Alabama, you expect the staff to get raided every winter, and when you transfer to Oklahoma for one season, everything is new, and when you land in the NFL, where no coaching staff is ever safe — not even Doug Pederson’s, which won Super Bowl LII and found itself unemployed just three years later — stability is a luxury.
“This is my first time, really, having the same quarterback coach, the same play-caller, since my dad in high school when I was 16,” Hurts said. “That in itself means a lot.”
That affords a measure of comfort. So does input on the roster.
Hurts and A.J. Brown connected when Brown visited Alabama’s campus on a recruiting visit, and Hurts put on the hard sell. Brown landed at Mississippi, then was drafted by Tennessee, but the pair became closer nonetheless. They’ve worked out together in the offseasons, and Hurts said that over the last few years, he and Brown have been the first person the other calls after games.
When Brown became available via trade, Hurts lobbied the Eagles to acquire him.
“It’s something I’ve been pushing for for a while,” Hurts said.
Hurts has grown up some, too. You can see by his sharpened features that he’s fitter, the result of a nutrition awakening. He revealed to Marks and Reese that, while he still weighs 220 pounds, he reported to camp with 8.5% body fat, which would be a good number for a triathlete.
He also said that he routinely corresponds with former Eagles quarterbacks Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and even Michael Vick, three weapons who helped the NFL evolve into a league that embraced mobile quarterbacks.
“I’ve been in contact with all of those guys,” Hurts said. “I appreciate the precedent they’ve set for the entire league. Talk about dual-threat guys. I appreciate those guys, that they continue to give me advice.”
More than anything else, though, Hurts conducted himself with a measure of confidence that the Eagles haven’t seen since Vick signed a $100 million extension before the 2011 season. Nick Foles never had it, Sam Bradford never had it, and any confidence Wentz showed always was transparent bluster.
Hurts has it.
It took two years, and it took lots of twists and turns, and he had to endure an offseason of the Eagles searching for an upgrade, but he has settled in.
He knows what he needs to do.
“Simply put, it’s consistency,” Hurts said. “Being consistent will make things elite around here. It will make me elite. It will make this offense elite.”©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.