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Jalen Hurts: 'I didn't walk through all that fire just to smell the smoke'

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Win the edge. It's an imperative in the NFL and it is something the Eagles did exceedingly well during the 2022 season, setting a strong perimeter against the run game and delivering pressure to affect the quarterback. Haason Reddick led the way in the latter category with 16 sacks, and the Eagles displayed depth as both Josh Sweat (11) and Brandon Graham (11) were productive in the quarterback sack department as the Eagles just ... wore ... down ... offensive blocking schemes with their depth.

They're setting up to do the same thing in 2023 – at least, that's the goal. And by bringing Graham back on a one-year contract, the Eagles are off to a great start as the NFL's 2023 official business year opening (Wednesday, 4 PM Eastern time) nears. Reddick, Sweat, and Graham are back. 2017 first-round draft pick Derek Barnett, who missed all but 12 defensive snaps of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the regular-season opener at Detroit, is working his way back to full health.

The idea is to rotate, keep everyone fresh, and continue to develop talent off the edge. The Eagles also have Patrick Johnson, a third-year player who saw action in 16 games in 2022, and Kyron Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick last spring who played mostly on special teams – he had 18 total defensive snaps while ranking tied for second on the team with seven special teams tackles.

There is room to add to the group in this roster-building portion of the offseason, but for now, the Eagles have something good going on the edge. And as the team proceeds through the offseason, it's best to look at the roster in a position-by-position way. Teams with the most depth are the ones that have the most success, so you know Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman will keep his eyes open to see if he can upgrade the edge.

Keeping Graham as part of the rotation is a good way to start the offseason. He brings so much to the table on and off the field, and the Eagles will be glad to have him in the rotation.

From left: Edward Grayer, Autumn Lockwood, Fernando Noriega, Ted Rath, Ben Wagner, Mike Minnis, and Dustin Woods
From left: Edward Grayer, Autumn Lockwood, Fernando Noriega, Ted Rath, Ben Wagner, Mike Minnis, and Dustin Woods

In other news and notes and things to think about as the NFL's free-agency week is upon us ...

1. Eagles Vice President of Player Performance Ted Rath was named Strength Coach of the Year by the Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, an award voted on by the league's strength and conditioning coaches. Rath, who also won the award in 2017 when he was with the Los Angeles Rams, accepted the award at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"It's really humbling because it's voted on by every head strength and conditioning coach or director of performance in the NFL," said Rath, who was quick to credit his entire staff and the Eagles organization for its forward-thinking approach to player performance. "So anytime you win an award as voted on by your peers, I think to me, at least you take on an extra added privilege of man, these guys look at me in that light. That's really cool, because obviously, I'm part of that voting and when I go in voting them who holds the utmost respect who does a phenomenal job just based on feedback from players that we share and all these other components, but more importantly, man, it's just an honor that people see in that life so I think more than anything that's a really big deal anytime you actually get recognized by your peers."

The Eagles in 2022 were especially well-conditioned and healthy throughout the season, as Rath noted in a recent column here. It takes a whole staff of dedicated professionals to make it work, and it is working very well for this organization and that is an important thing to keep in mind for 2023.

"Anytime you look at an individual award, there's a phenomenal team behind it," Rath said. "So for me, it's Fernando (Noriega, head strength and conditioning coach). It's Dustin (Woods, associate strength and conditioning coach). It's Eddie (Edward Grayer, associate strength and conditioning coach). It's Mike (Minnis, director of performance nutrition/assistant strength and conditioning coach). It's Ben (Wagner, assistant strength and conditioning coach). It's Stephanie (Coppola, associate performance nutrition coordinator). It's Autumn (Lockwood, assistant sports performance coach). It's our performance massage therapists (Casey Hardy, Molly Robinson, Megan Hartman, Kal Anderson, Christy Lee). It's the collaboration with our medical team. It's the people that we work with in this building, and it's the people that allow us to do our jobs.

"We couldn't do what we do without (Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey Lurie and providing the resources that he does or without (President) Don Smolenski and the leadership that he and Howie (Roseman) and Nick Sirianni and those guys provide. And I think that's the cool part about any award, whether it's (quarterback) Jalen (Hurts) winning something or anyone on the staff. It's a recognition of the organization."

2. Some things to note about new Linebackers Coach D.J. Eliot, a coach at the collegiate level as a defensive coordinator for nine seasons. At his most recent stop, Temple University, Eliot turned around that defense as the coordinator and outside linebackers coach, so maybe that provides a glimpse of the kind of defense that new coordinator Sean Desai wants to run here. Temple in 2022 led the American Athletic Conference with 38 quarterback sacks after the Owls recorded only 15 quarterback sacks in the 2021 season. Additionally, Temple ranked second in the conference in fewest passing yards allowed. Eliot ran an aggressive and very successful scheme. A season before, Eliot helped Eagles linebacker Kyron Johnson – a sixth-round draft pick in 2022 – thrive in the Kansas defense with 61 total tackles, 6.5 quarterback sacks, and four forced fumbles. What does that mean for the Eagles in 2023? Not really sure, but pressuring the quarterback is a huge priority for this team and Eliot had a lot of success at the collegiate level doing just that.

3. At Thursday's 86th Annual Maxwell Football Club 2023 National Awards Gala, Sirianni was honored as the winner of the 34th Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year Award, joining former Eagles coaches Ray Rhodes (1995), Andy Reid (2000,'02,'10), Chip Kelly (2013), and Doug Pederson (2017) as winners of the award. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was selected as the winner of the 64th Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year Award. Defensive end Brandon Graham received the Steinberg-DeNicola Humanitarian Award.

"I'm 41 years old and I'm still part of a team in the greatest team sport there is," Sirianni said as he accepted the Award. "I'm really honored, and when you're part of a team, there are obviously a lot of people to thank (he thanked Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, and the support staff of the organization, his players, former coaches who have made an impression on him, his family). I'm just so blessed to be in this position." Sirianni ended his speech with an "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!" chant and received a huge ovation.

Said Hurts in his acceptance speech: "I talk about this game the way I do because I really love this game. I love the journey of this game and everything that comes along with the journey. Everybody's always talked about my history and the things that I've experienced for a long time. Everything has been so public. I always knew that this was something that I've wanted to do since I was a young kid.

"When you run across the people that you do this with, run across the great teammates, when you accept awards like this, you give all the credit to the teammates. Being able to play in a place where I'm able to suit up every day with my best friend, A.J. Brown. I get to play with guys like DeVonta Smith, where I've built relationships with legends like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson – hungry dogs – Jordan Mailata, Isaac (Seumalo), all of those guys. On the defense, guys like Darius Slay, Fletcher Cox, Haason Reddick, Marcus Epps – all of these guys, they built me to be who I am because we compete every day, we go at it every day. We truly all love the game.

"The most beautiful part of all of this is there is beauty in anything that experience in life but you have to decide what that is and what that means for you and I know that I've experienced a number of agonies and pains but now I realize that that pain is my strength."

Hurts closed by saying that "this is only the beginning" and "I didn't walk through all that fire just to smell the smoke" of a Super Bowl appearance.

It was an appropriate message as this week begins and the Eagles start addressing the roster in earnest for 2023 and beyond.

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