Since the moment Carson Wentz was traded to Indianapolis, there’s been speculation the Eagles would trade for Deshaun Watson or another high-profile quarterback. While they signed former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco in March and traded for Gardner Minshew last week, the starting job belongs to Jalen Hurts.
Hurts took all the reps with the starters in training camp and rookie coach Nick Sirianni finally confirmed the obvious on Tuesday after the team reached the 53-player roster limit.
“Jalen is our starter. He’s done a great job,” Sirianni said. “We wanted him to take advantage of the opportunity and take the reins with the advantage of the opportunity that he got, and we feel like the preseason that he had, he did that.
“I consistently saw a player that got better every single day. I consistently saw a player make the read, getting better with his reads and his accuracy and his ability to run and when not to run. He did exactly what we wanted him to do.”
Hurts, a second-round draft pick in 2020, started the final four games on a last-place team, going 1-3 with flashes of brilliance and plenty of inconsistency. He quickly proved himself to teammates, even if the front office keeps its options open.
“I really like his mentality. All the intangibles, this kid has them in spades,” three-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce said of Hurts. “He’s got a great quiet, calm confidence to him. He’s cocky. You can tell in his head he’s the best player on that field, but he doesn’t make all the … receivers, all the other players, feel like that’s the case. He still appreciates all those other guys.
“He’s still humble enough. But also confident enough at the same time. And that’s hard to find in a player. But that’s the way most of the (best) players I’ve been around are. So I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”
The Eagles fired coach Doug Pederson after a miserable season that followed three consecutive playoff appearances, including the franchise’s only Super Bowl title. They replaced him with Sirianni, who didn’t get an interview with any other team.
Sirianni had spent the previous three seasons as offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. He brings plenty of energy and excitement and surrounded himself with a young staff. Expectations are low for Sirianni and the Eagles this season but he found after his introductory news conference just how tough media and fans in Philadelphia are when he was criticized for the way he answered questions.
Desperate for a playmaker at wide receiver, the Eagles spent another first-round pick on the position, trading up after trading back and selecting Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at No. 10 overall. A knee injury slowed Smith at the start of camp but he finished strong.
Smith teams with Jalen Reagor, a 2020 first-round pick coming off a disappointing, injury-riddled rookie year.
Running back Miles Sanders had 867 yards rushing, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns in 12 games. Three of his TDs were runs of 65, 74 and 82 yards. He also had a 74-yard run that resulted in a fumble recovered by a teammate for a TD. Sanders had trouble catching the ball last season after hauling in 50 passes as a rookie, but he showed improvement in camp.
“I’ve obviously been impressed with Miles’ ability to play,” Sirianni said. “I think he’s a very talented back. Excited about the things he’s going to be able to do this year for our team.”
Philadelphia’s strength is along both lines. The offensive line led by Kelce, three-time Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson and three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks is among the best in the NFL, if healthy. Brooks missed last season, Johnson only played seven games and Kelce was the only lineman who started every game. Injuries along the line allowed the Eagles to develop younger players, giving them more depth.
Jordan Mailata, an Australian rugby player who hadn’t played football before the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2018, beat out 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard for the starting spot at left tackle.
The defensive line is deep. Six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox anchors a unit that features Brandon Graham, Ryan Kerrigan, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett and Javon Hargrave.
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz remains on the roster despite seeking a trade and the team’s pursuit of one throughout the offseason. Ertz is coming off a down year after averaging 82 catches and 879 yards over the previous six. He set an NFL record for most receptions by a tight end with 116 in 2018. It’ll be interesting to see if Ertz gets more snaps than Dallas Goedert.
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