PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and his staff look at four key attributes when evaluating quarterbacks, he said. They are decision-making, accuracy, ability to create and leadership.
Those evaluators are good to know and can provide a better understanding of what the Eagles' staff is looking for out of projected starter Jalen Hurts.
How is the second-year quarterback faring in those areas in training camp? Let's take a look.
Sirianni indicated this will be the staff's biggest area of focus with Hurts between now and the regular-season opener at the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 12 (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Namely, he wants Hurts to strike the balance between improvising with his legs and playing with rhythm within the structure of the offense.
"I understand that some part of his game is to be able to move around and make plays. But a wise man avoids all extremes," Sirianni said. "It can't be all rhythm, and it can't be all scramble. So, it's like, 'Hey, what's the happy medium there?'"
It's safe to say Hurts hasn't found it yet with training camp nearing the two-week mark and Thursday's preseason opener at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers fast approaching (7:30 p.m. ET).
The Eagles' offense has looked sluggish at times. While there are several contributing factors -- it's a new system, key players such as DeVonta Smith and Brandon Brooks have been out because of injuries and the defense has been playing well -- Hurts' timing and decision-making have factored into the lack of flow in spots. There have been a few bad interceptions.
Straddling the line between being a playmaker and running the system as intended is nothing new, including in Philadelphia. Former starting quarterback Carson Wentz fought that fight, as did Michael Vick before him. It's not an easy balancing act, but the scales are tipped too heavily in the playmaker direction for Hurts.
This depends on what type of throws we're talking about.
Hurts has been money on throwing the deep balls. He has shown a knack for hitting his receivers in stride with touch, even from 40-plus yards out. Given that, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise he was tied for the most 30-plus yard completions (nine) during Weeks 13 through 17 last season, along with Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, Las Vegas' Derek Carr and Houston's Deshaun Watson.
It's the short and intermediate throws where Hurts has been more erratic. There are practices where he gets hot, like a streak shooter, and others when he goes cold. It's not uncommon for him to sail passes. Part of the solution could be found in the fundamentals. Sirianni said earlier in camp the coaching staff is "obsessed" with Hurts' footwork and getting it "synced up with the play." While they've made progress, Sirianni said in late July, "we are far from where we need to be." Improved footwork on Hurts' drops should help him with accuracy and timing, Sirianni explained, as "the drop will tell you when the ball should be out as you read the defense."
In four starts as a rookie, Hurts completed 52% of his throws for 1,061 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. That completion rate is a little misleading considering he was often running for his life behind an injury-riddled offensive line and would throw the ball away to avoid negative plays. But there's room for improvement.
Ability to create
This is where Hurts shines.
His gifts were on full display Sunday during the Eagles' open practice at Lincoln Financial Field, which drew nearly 26,000 fans, according to the team. The biggest crowd roar of the night came when Hurts scrambled to his left to avoid traffic and flicked a ball 50 yards downfield to wide receiver Quez Watkins, who hauled it in with a leaping catch over safety Anthony Harris. Sure, Hurts might have been able to throw in rhythm to a different target underneath, but it wouldn't have produced that kind of result.
Hurts, the team's 2020 second-round pick, showed off those dual-threat skills as a rookie after replacing Wentz in the lineup for the final quarter of the regular season. He amassed the second-most rushing yards of any quarterback between Weeks 14 and 17 (272) behind Lamar Jackson (336) of the Baltimore Ravens, and was one of four QBs in 2020 to record multiple games with 400-plus total yards, along with Buffalo's Josh Allen, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Arizona's Kyler Murray.
The training camp environment isn't always conducive to highlighting the strengths of quarterbacks such as Hurts, who excels at extending plays and creating something out of nothing. Hurts' ability to escape defenders has made for a gray area when judging the competition between the offense and defense at camp.
Sirianni has created a system in which the winner of each play during team drills gets a point, and the tallies are added up as the staff goes through each rep on film to see which side of the ball had the better day. It's not always a clear-cut process given Hurts' abilities.
"There were a couple plays that [defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon] looked at me and said, 'That's an offensive win?' And I said, '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. "So there was enough protection there that I didn't call a sack on a couple of those and Jalen scrambled to make a play on a third down. I'm glad he has that ability to run because not everybody has that."
Jalen Hurts hits Miles Sanders as Eagles warm up for first open practice at the Linc. pic.twitter.com/JXx8cpAOHs— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) August 8, 2021
Hurts appears to have it in spades.
The term "natural leader" has been used by his teammates with regularity dating to early in his rookie season. They're drawn to his quiet confidence, command and accountability. They know he won't be outworked and will treat everyone as equals.
Hurts was even accepted into the exclusive offensive line fraternity at Lane Johnson's Bro Barn.
"He's been pretty consistent since he got here," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "He's a great leader, he's got a great attitude about him. All he wants to do is win. All he wants to do is compete and beat the team across from him. And you can feel that each and every day. When it doesn't go that way, you can feel his frustration.
"I really like Jalen's intangibles. I really like how he goes about his work. And I don't think that's changed in the least. Now it's just some new plays, some new coaches and everything, so we're all kind of starting from scratch again. But that work ethic and who he is as a person will carry him through that."