Saturday, August 13, 2022

DeVonta Smith, Eagles seeing growth of Jalen Hurts in second year as starter: ‘He’s always going to work’

Learning from the mistakes of the past has proven beneficial for the Philadelphia Eagles. Donovan McNabb was a superstar quarterback with not many excellent offensive weapons around him, just an offensive line that was one of the best in the league and a consensus top 10 tight end in Chad Lewis.

Fast forward two decades later. The Eagles have a quarterback with a similar skill set as McNabb in Jalen Hurts, one who can transform a game with his legs yet is still developing as a passer. McNabb had the pleasure of throwing to Torrance Small and Charles Johnson toward the end of their careers, James Thrash in his best years, and Todd Pinkston in his early years. 

That didn’t strike fear in opposing secondaries, which led to McNabb carrying the Eagles’ offense in years where the defense was Super Bowl-caliber. The Eagles won a lot of games two decades ago, but rolling the ball to the top of the hill ultimately took its toll on McNabb.

Philadelphia made sure a talented young quarterback in Hurts didn’t have to carry the passing game alone. The Eagles selected DeVonta Smith in the first round of last year’s draft (No. 10 overall) and traded a first-round pick this year to acquire A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans. Together, the duo have the potential to be one of the best in the league. 

Of course, it all comes down to Hurts. 

“This offseason wasn’t different than any other offseason. That’s Jalen. He’s always going to work,” Smith said Wednesday. “When Jalen watches film, he calls me and tells me what he sees. That’s what he always does.” 

Smith isn’t surprised to see the growth of his quarterback as they head into Year 2 together — at the professional ranks. Eagles quarterbacks had a 102.1 passer rating targeting Smith last season, the highest among wide receivers that had over 30 targets. Hurts had a 100-plus passer rating targeting Smith in six of the 15 games they played together. 

There may be more big Hurts to Smith connections in Year 2, just from what Smith saw working with Hurts throughout the offseason.

“Timing’s better,” Smith said. “Communication is better.” 

With Brown playing wide receiver opposite Smith and Dallas Goedert at tight end, the Eagles believe they gave Hurts all the pieces he needs to become the franchise quarterback of an organization that still needs to see if he is the guy. 

The front office may need 2022 to evaluate. Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni is singing a different tune. 

“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,” Sirianni said. “Just like a lot of quarterbacks in this league, they get better with their decision-making over time. 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. (He) just got to continue to ride the momentum of that through training camp each and every day.”

Unlike McNabb in the early 2000s, Hurts can evolve as a passer with great pass catchers around him. The expectations are sky high for what the Eagles can achieve in 2022.

Repeat, it all comes down to Hurts.

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