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Inside the Eagles' Shift Toward an RPO-Heavy Offense

Nick Sirianni is going to lean on Jalen Hurts' strengths as a player

PHILADELPHIA - They aren't seismic shifts but Eagles rookie head coach Nick Sirianni is proving to be as advertised during his first training camp in the big chair.

When it comes to hiring coaches in the NFL there's a well-known adage: if you're hiring a scheme, you're doing it wrong.

In the case of Sirianni, perhaps the strongest checkmark he had, outside the endorsement of Frank Reich, was helping to pilot an offense in Indianapolis with three distinctly different quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers.

The upheaval fueled by Luck's sudden retirement did not prevent the Colts from always putting a credible offense on the field and Sirianni was a big part of that.

The coach arrived in Philadelphia to handle the transition away from Carson Wentz to the next answer at quarterback. In the short-term, that's Jalen Hurts, but GM Howie Roseman has built a safety net for 2022 that will have the Eagles in a position to trade for a veteran signal-caller or be in a position to get a top-10 level option in the draft if Hurts falters.

Through 10 camp practices Hurts is shaping up to be what most thought he was before this process began, an intriguing playmaker who struggles to throw the football with accuracy on a consistent basis.

After Hurts' worst practice of the summer on Saturday and before Sunday's session at Lincoln Financial Field, Sirianni admitted that he wants to see the second-year player show more consistency as a passer.

"Just continuing to grow in the offense and being able to throw on rhythm and with some consistency with his rhythm," the coach said.

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Sirianni is also cognizant of what Hurts does well and that seems to be what he wants to build the offense on in the short term.

"I also understand that some part of his game is to be able to move around and make plays," he said. "But, again, a wise man avoids all extremes. It can't be all rhythm, and it can't be all scramble. So, it's like, ‘Hey, what's the happy medium there?’"

The happy medium seems to be a college-style RPO-heavy offense, something Miles Sanders admitted over the weekend.

“It’s very similar to college, just switching from a pro-style to an RPO offense,” Sanders said when queried about Sirianni's offensive install. “Just getting back to that feeling. I love it. Just getting our athletes into space, and getting one-on-one matchups with certain players."

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Sanders' comments sparked the question to Sirianni and the coach confirmed that RPOs are part of the puzzle to his offense and that's an aspect to the scheme he's added recently in an industry in which innovation often trickles up from high school to college before landing on the big stage.

"It's definitely a section that I didn't have a ton of experience with until late in that 2017 year with the Chargers, and then a lot with these past three years here with Frank [Reich] and myself at the Colts," said Sirianni. "So, really just see how much it benefits your offense because you're able to read a player instead of block a player.

"That's a great thing to be able to do, like ‘Hey, I don't have to block him. What did he do? Did he take a drop? Alright, good, I'm handing it off. Did he knife it? Good, I'm pulling it and taking it and throwing the ball.’ So, a big part of it, what we do – yeah, it's a piece of the puzzle of what we do, and we're just continuing to grow in it."

Sirianni's right-hand man, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, is a big sounding board when it comes to RPOs, a nod to his time at Texas A&M as a senior offensive analyst.

Current quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, the former offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, is also involved in that part of the scheme and many of the ideas and concepts of Sirianni's offense can be traced directly to Tom Manning, the offensive coordinator at Iowa State who once worked for Sirianni with the Colts.

Eagles QB coach Brian Johnson

QB coach Brian Johnson

"I think we have great coaches like Kevin Patullo was around a lot of the RPO stuff," said Sirianni. "One of the reasons why – to be honest with you – one of the reasons why we hired Kevin in Indianapolis was because his experience [with the Aggies]. Frank had just come off of the Philly teams of having a lot of experience or having a lot of success with RPOs, and Kevin was in college the year before at Texas A&M, and he came and talked to us, and we were like, ‘Yes, we like this stuff.’

"So, we brought him to Indianapolis. That's one reason why we did that."

From there the evolution continued with Manning in Indy and here with Johnson and tight ends coach Jason Michael, the one-time OC with the Titans who ran a heavy RPO scheme with Raiders backup quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"Brian Johnson has a lot of background on this and Jason Michael," Sirianni said. "So, I'm so lucky on this staff that we have Jason, who's called plays in the NFL for Marcus Mariota, and we know how Marcus ran with the football."

For Eagles fans, the best part of this is Sirianni is proving to be a malleable coach, intent on accentuating the strengths of the talent on hand and minimizing as many deficiencies as possible.

If Joe Flacco or Nick Mullens are forced to play, there will be a 180 and the RPO game will be placed on the back burner.

As far as the future, team owner Jeffrey Lurie wants and almost demands a state-of-the-art passing offense, so unless Hurts refines that part of his game he's only a rest-stop until the real answer arrives.

Sirianni, however, wants to make Hurts the best rest stop on the turnpike.

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.