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More than ball: Jalen Hurts understands the value of team chemistry

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

There are touch points, if you will, that are so very important for quarterback Jalen Hurts, and they all come so naturally for a leader who understands the importance of chemistry and trust and building a rapport that lasts. And the truth is that for Hurts it doesn't matter if he's hanging out with his teammates in the locker room or at the movies or in the cafeteria or at the bowling alley. Time spent together is time well spent.

Early in the morning, Hurts is one of the first to arrive at the NovaCare Complex ready to "attack the day" and he is soon joined by his receiving corps with the aim of getting, in some way, shape, or form, "1,000 reps a day," whether that's on the field or mental or a combination of the two. Time together ...

"We communicate, we get on the same page and we talk through things and I think that's going to help us in the end," he said. "Anytime I can spend time with my teammates, whether it's in Florida or Cali or Texas or Philly, here, at home, the bowling alley, it all matters.

"When you're playing a team sport, it's not all about X's and O's. A lot of it is ball, but the other part of it is getting to know that person, being on the same page with that person, knowing how that person thinks, and just getting to know him thoroughly. We have a lot of time to do that right now."

We know Hurts pretty thoroughly in his third season here, having watched him grow from a second-round draft pick who started four games to end his first season, a tough one in 2020 for everybody. Hurts didn't flinch in that stretch-run look-see and he showed enough promise to give the Eagles confidence to make the wholesale change at the game's most important position. He and Head Coach Nick Sirianni ushered in, together, a new era for the Eagles in 2021 and they weathered the storm through the rocky 2-5 start to the campaign to roar in the season's second half and reach the playoffs.

For his part, Hurts was dynamic. In 15 starts, Hurts produced 3,928 total yards from scrimmage and totaled 26 touchdowns. He presented NFL defenses with an array of skills that helped him become the first quarterback in league history to pass for 4,000-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing yards in his first 20 starts. The first quarterback in league history ...

But that's not enough for Hurts. He's a perfectionist and an astonishingly mature 23-year-old (he turns 24 on August 7) who is deeply committed to the game, his teammates, the community, and his family. In an era of me, me, me, Hurts is all about what's around him. He lives it. He breathes it. He means it.

As Hurts started his Welcome to Training Camp press conference on Wednesday, he was asked about the baseball cap he wore (it read Breed of 1), and he took the opportunity to launch into how he spent the penultimate weekend of his offseason. Hurts went deep into the inner belly of Philadelphia, hosting a football camp that was about football, yes, but more about the message. His message.

"Everybody has something special about them," he said. "There is always something unique about a person; it's just for that person to see it. Talking about the youth, you've got to give them something to believe in."

The Eagles believe in Hurts – goodness, how many times were they asked about it in the offseason?!? – and have built around his multidimensional skills an offense that the team hopes can be an equal-opportunity inflictor of pain on defenses. The running game last season, with the help of Hurts' 784 yards, of course – led the NFL in rushing. The passing game added Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown and an under-the-radar player in Zach Pascal, whom the coaching staff thinks will add toughness, reliability, and leadership. The offensive line reloaded, adding interior lineman Cam Jurgens in the NFL Draft, and is expected to be among the best in the business once again.

All of the pieces are in place for the offense to have success, and Hurts is the driving force. He's now a veteran of 19 NFL starts, something to keep in mind, and the game is coming to him. Every rep he takes, every throw he makes, the picture becomes clearer and clearer.

"I think it definitely slows down over time. I think it slows down with reps," he said. "This is my first time having the same playcaller, coach, since my dad (Averion was the head coach) in high school when I was, like, 16. I think it's a big difference. I think it's exciting."

Hurts is on the same page with Sirianni in every way as the offense has continued to evolve. The Eagles want to play to Hurts' strengths and he wants to make his game better in every phase. There is no push and pull here. Instead, the Eagles are committed to building an offense that can win any way each week.

After the 2021 season, Hurts went to work on breaking down his mechanics, watched film from the year and pushed himself to new borders. When he reported back to the NovaCare Complex in the spring and threw in the practices then, Hurts had a faster release, a better understanding of where to go with the football, and greater accuracy. He felt it. The Eagles saw it.

"You can see he's a year further into it, decisions are being made quicker and faster each time he gets a rep at it. Just like a lot of quarterbacks in this league, they get better with their decision-making over time," Sirianni said. "You're definitely going to see that. You will still see his playmaking ability with his feet. I saw a more accurate passer in OTAs, and now he's got to go and continue to improve every single day. But I really thought he had great progress in OTAs and just got to continue to ride the momentum of that through Training Camp each and every day."

Each and every day is here. And there is Hurts, laughing in the hallways with his receivers. He's in the cafeteria, enjoying a meal with the linemen. In the weight room, he's pushing it with the running backs. A man of the team, Hurts is, as he's been from Day 1. Every minute he spends with his guys, he knows, the benefits on the back end come out tenfold.

The thoughts of 2021 – the road to the playoffs and the season-ending loss at Tampa Bay – are in the back of everyone's mind. The goal is to use that experience as a springboard for more.

"Every day we go to work, we worry about what's at hand. We don't forget where we've come from, too," Hurts said. "We don't forget what we overcame. We don't forget how we ended it. But in the end, we still have the same feeling of hunger and I know that hungry dogs run faster. We're working, taking it day by day. Let me say, we're not gonna just pop up, be in the first round of the playoffs or have a bye week the first week. That doesn't just happen. You've gotta go work for that. That starts right now."

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