'Grass Time’ Gives Nate Sudfeld Leg Up at Backup QB
Despite claims to the contrary on the night the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts, the former star quarterback at Alabama and Oklahoma might have been the sexiest pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if the world’s top supermodel picks out the perfect little black dress and then it has to go in storage for months, it’s not necessarily going to be runway ready the minute it’s taken out of mothballs.
That might not be the perfect metaphor for what’s going on with Hurts and the Eagles but every rookie in the entire NFL is up against it, the first virtual offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, this would be the time of year where we are in the middle of phase two, kind of preparing for phase three, the OTA aspect of our offseason,” said coach Doug Pederson during a videoconference call Tuesday morning.
“We would be in the building with a lot of meeting time, a lot of extra meeting time with our rookies trying to get them caught up with our playbook.”
The problem for Pederson and every other coach in the league is “grass time,” or more specifically the lake thereof.
“We are making do with the virtual set up,” said Pederson. “The coaches have done a great job of meeting and preparing and getting the guys as close to ready as possible, but we do need the grass time to see what these guys can do and see what they have taken away from the offseason from a mental standpoint.”
While nothing remains official “grass time” isn’t arriving until late-July at the earliest with the tentatively scheduled starts of training camps so those expecting typical rookies to hit the ground running are probably being pie-in-the-sky.
As for a rookie QB in some intricately-devised, Taysom Hill-on-steroids-like package? Think again.
“I think early on in this season this becomes a veteran-laden football season,” said Pederson. "Football teams are going to have to rely on their veteran players.”
For the Eagles that means Nate Sudfeld at backup QB, not Hurts, the No. 53 overall pick back in April.
“Nate is just one of those guys for us," said the head coach. "He’s been on our roster now for the last couple of seasons and he knows exactly what we’re doing. I have a ton of confidence in Nate to become the backup quarterback.”
That “grass time” remains important, however.
“Nothing is ever handed to anybody,” Pederson said. “I always try to create competition with every position and quarterback, as you guys know, is not exempt from that. I fully expect Nate to come in and be aggressive and do the things he’s capable of doing and become the backup to Carson.”
Expanded game-day roster rules could help Hurts early. Now 48 players can dress instead of 46 and while one of them has to be an extra offensive lineman, the other could be a third QB.
In that type of circumstance, if you need 60 plays Sudfeld would be the guy but you could also still install a small package of plays to take advantage of the unique skill set of Hurts.
And that setup could be inserted at any time depending on how quickly Hurts picks things up, whether it’s Week 1, Week 8, or later into the season.
“With Jalen right now, (it’s) just learning and picking up our system,” Pederson said. “He’s another one, another young player that we drafted who, there's a lot to learn from the quarterback position. So, are we going to take it a little bit slower maybe with him until he grasps the offense? You might have to.”
The opportunity still exists for Hurts, however.
“What I like about it is always the unknown, and the unknown is how well a guy I think can progress,” Pederson said. “And then once we get him on the grass, put him through drills, put him through practices, then we see exactly what these guys are all about.
“Right now, Jalen is doing an outstanding job of picking up the offense, spitting it back to (Eagles Passing Game Coordinator) Press (Taylor), and understanding what we are trying to get done, and we go that route with him right now at this time.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen