In every other week of the 2020 season before now, Jalen Hurts did what No. 2 quarterbacks did: He attended every quarterbacks meeting, virtually, and spent long hours studying opponents' defenses and the Eagles' offense, reviewing the game plan with fellow Eagles quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nate Sudfeld, along with Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Press Taylor. Hurts had his strength and conditioning time, as well as any needs he had attended to by the athletic training staff.
When daily practices began, Hurts went through all the individual drills and then, when the "team" work began, he settled in behind Wentz and took part only in the reps in place for specific packages – both in the red zone and in normal down-and-distance situations – and then, with the starting defense on the field, assumed the role of scout team quarterback, mimicking the opposing team's signal-caller. Hurts worked before practice and after practice on some specific technique issues – footwork, timing throws, release point, etc.
As always, Hurts prepared to play.
"I've always prepared myself as if I'm the starter," he said, minus the on-field reps with the starting offense.
This week, of course, things have been different. Told on Monday night by Head Coach Doug Pederson that he would start against New Orleans on Sunday, Hurts moved forward as the "same consistent person he is and he responded that way," Taylor said after his virtual press conference with reporters on Friday. The only other change?
"He's more opinionated regarding the plan, which is what we expect from our starter," Taylor said in a text.
It isn't like the world has been turned upside down for Hurts in the last several days. He held his own virtual press conference with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, but there certainly hasn't been a meet-the-media tour for the rookie making his first NFL start. It has, largely, been business as usual. That's the way it is in the NFL: You always prepare as if you're one ankle sprain away from playing, because you are.
The Eagles' coaching staff put together a game plan for New Orleans taking into account what the Saints do well – which is pretty much everything – but also considering what Hurts does well and, perhaps, differently, from Wentz. When the Eagles drafted Hurts and formulated the playbook, they went back and looked more intently at Hurts from his time at Alabama and Oklahoma to see what they could incorporate into the NFL.
On Sunday, we could see some of those concepts.
"That's something I like to think we do with all of the new guys that we've added. You want to really learn their strengths, so a lot of that is really evaluating the things they've done well in their pasts and what that looks like and how that fits our offense," Taylor said. "We're not going to obviously reinvent ourselves within a week, but we're going to grab from the playbook already that Jalen has time on task with that really fits his strengths as well as the guys around him. A lot of times, your quarterback is playing well, your offense is going to play well, the 10 other guys feed off of that. So that's what we're going to try to do."
Will the offense look markedly different on Sunday? Maybe. Maybe not. The Eagles aren't going to come out in a Wing-T, but they have may take advantage of Hurts' mobility in certain instances.
"There may be some certain things that show up," Taylor said, "but for the most part our playbook is pretty expansive. There may be some things you've seen at some point and time. They may look different a lot of times as we add some eye candy (motion, etc.) to a lot of core concepts that everybody around has had a lot of experience with."
The Eagles have been impressed all along with Hurts and his maturity, his willingness to listen and ask questions, and his ability to absorb and master the offense. Is this the ideal time for him to start a game? Is it ever ideal when a team is 3-8-1 and the offense has struggled like it has?
Hurts is ready because, well, he's demonstrated he can handle the moment and he entered last Sunday's game at Green Bay and sparked an offense that needed a lift.
"I think Jalen has really grown," Taylor said. "You see the guys play a lot faster, especially from the quarterback position, as they grow, when they learn and they understand the offense and they hear the way we're coaching a certain route. You know what to expect with guys. It's one thing to walk out on the field and throw a corner route, but it's another thing to talk about how the guy's going to run it against a certain leverage, how Greg Ward runs a corner route versus how Alshon Jeffery runs a corner route. Guys are different. Now that you get more and more reps with those individuals, you can see a little more, you can trust things a little more, you maybe cut the ball loose a half-second quicker because you have that chemistry, that relationship, that understanding of something, and you're seeing things the same way.
"So, I think as his overall knowledge of what we're doing and the details of it has improved. You've seen him improve and you've seen him be a little more comfortable in his own skin."
We will see on Sunday how comfortable Hurts is when the game action is live and when he's not wearing a red jersey. The Saints are going to go after him and the Eagles, with another offensive line change as Nate Herbig replaces Jason Peters at right guard, are going to have to adjust and stay on the field, move the football confidently, and look to beat 10-2 New Orleans.