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Eagles' Hoping Jalen Hurts' Strengths Show Up on Game Day

Practice isn't the best place for off-schedule QBs to show off their skills

PHILADELPHIA - It's been almost 20 years since basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson forever made Philadelphia the epicenter of any practice debate when it comes to professional sports.

The Eagles are putting a new twist on practice discussions with presumptive QB1 Jalen Hurts.

If you've been watching Nick Sirianni's team work this summer, you can't help wonder how the offense is going to perform with Hurts running the show.

To be kind, the second-year quarterback has been inconsistent when throwing the football, especially when it comes to the intermediate throws where your money is made as a top-tier NFL signal-caller.

From the outside, looking in Hurts seems more comfortable throwing the football down the field and outside the numbers. Think of it as an open road on the freeway versus rush-hour traffic.

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen quickly emphasized the downfield ability when discussing the young QB earlier this summer.

"Just watching him in practice, the plays he makes, as we know he has big scrambling ability," said Steichen. "But the way he throws the deep ball. ... To be able to throw the deep ball and hit guys in stride, that's an 80-yard touchdown instead of a 60-yard gain. So, really impressed with how he throws the deep ball right now."

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Steichen is going to be the conduit between Hurts and the play-caller, Sirianni, on game days and like many who meet Hurts, the rest of the positive feedback tends to focus on the intangibles.

"We all know this about him, this guy loves football. Like, he loves football," Steichen said. "And he's a tireless worker and he wants to be the best he can be."

That doesn't always translate to the practice field, however.

One throw can be a strike from Hurts, like perhaps his best throw to date in camp, a red-zone laser to tight end Dallas Goedert just past the outstretched arm of linebacker Davion Taylor. The next throw could be wildly off base, not even giving Hurts' intended receiver an opportunity to make a play.

Jalen Hurts meets the media

Jalen Hurts

The conundrum brings to mind two self-admitted obsessions with Sirianni: Hurts' footwork and practice as a whole.

With Hurts, Sirianni and his coaching staff stay away from the top half of his body, believing a QB's intricacies with arm placement are not worth the hand-wringing.

To the group, which includes Sirianni, Steichen, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, any improvement comes from the lower half of the body.

"There's a couple things I talk about with a quarterback finish," said Sirianni. "It's just about finish. But the way they throw it... They're going to keep throwing it that way. It takes a long time before you can switch anything there. I don't perceive [Hurts] to have any issues up top.

"What we do with a quarterback is work with their feet, how do their feet correlate with the play. This is the drop with the play. The drop will tell you when the ball should be out as you read the defense. As far as fundamentals with his feet, we're obsessed with it."

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Hurts explained what's been going on when it comes to instruction.

"We want to be consistent in everything we do," Hurts explained when asked about his footwork. "They talk about the fundamentals of whatever right? When you're pinpoint maybe on a read or feeling the rhythm of a play, seeing the defense and just reacting to it, the rhythm of it, it just comes down to your feet."

The obsession with Hurts' footwork hasn't led to consistent success through 11 practices, and the spin coming out of ceratin quarters is that the former Heisman Trophy runner-up may simply be the classic game-day player, something Sirianni alluded to when discussing his other obsession, the practices themselves.

"We want practice to be like the game as much as possible," the coach said.

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Though the summer the Eagles' defense has generally gotten the best of the offense yet certain days have been graded a little closer than defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon would like.

Sirianni explained the disconnect earlier this week.

"I got on [Coaches Assistant] Tyler [Scudder], my assistant, is the one who’s blowing the whistle on sacks," he said. "And so, I said he was a little premature on a couple whistles the other night and the other day. 

"I think especially because when the defense – I really think this team knows how to practice. They know, ‘Hey, we're going to have to practice without pads. We got to practice to stay away from the quarterback.’ So they're doing a good job of that."

The environment doesn't lend itself to evaluating Hurts' greatest traits as a player: the off-schedule offense created by extending plays.

"There are things, again, like tackling," said Sirianni. "There are things like, ‘Hey, you got the sack there? I don't know.’ You just got to – the defense would say, ‘Yes’ and the offense would say ‘No.’ You definitely see that. And now you'll see that in the game because no two-hand touch on Thursday [against Pittsburgh]."

The fingers are crossed with the assumption that many of the splash plays Hurts will provide simply can't be duplicated in practice with caution jerseys and quick whistles.

Hurts himself was presented with that assessment on Tuesday after practice and hesitated a bit.

"I guess. I mean, I don’t know," the presumptive QB1 said. "Maybe?"

For Sirianni, it's a tough tightrope to walk. 

Coaches not only can't practice sandlot football, but they also can't count on it being a consistent part of a winning program on a week-to-week basis.

The counterintuitive notion with Hurts has Sirianni and the Eagles' brass hoping the game isn't like the practice.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.