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August 03, 2021

What they're saying: Are the Eagles any better than they were last year?

Plus, how are things going for Jalen Hurts in his first camp as the starting QB?

Eagles NFL
Jalen-Hurts-Eagles-Camp_080321_Frese Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Tuesday marked the first real practice of Eagles training camp, with the players donning pads and getting physical for the first time this summer. Maybe a better answer to the question asked in this headline will come over the next several weeks. Or, more likely, it will come at some point a few months from now, after the majority of the 2021 schedule has been played and there's a reasonable sample size from which to judge. 

But absent of that, because the preseason is still over a week away, we'll have to settle for an answer based on paper. And on paper, the Eagles are a tough team to get a read on. Their most talented players are, in many cases, the older players, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. They have some young talent with potential, but mostly a lot of question marks. 

How it all comes together is the biggest question — and plenty are skeptical, including sportsbooks. According to Pickswise, the Eagles are currently tied for the seventh-worst Super Bowl odds at +10000, worst in the NFC East. That's not entirely surprising considering that's where they finished in the division last year following a 4-11-1 campaign.

So after a relatively quiet offseason by Howie Roseman's standards — at least, once they fired their coach, traded away their quarterback, and brought in a whole new regime — that included a few free-agent acquisitions as well as the 10th overall pick in the draft, where do the Eagles rank among the most improved teams in the NFL? That's where we'll start today's edition of What They're Saying... 

Better on paper?

Mike Clay | ESPN+

Over at ESPN, Mike Clay ranked all 32 NFL teams in terms of which ones were the most improved this offseason. The NFC East had a few high marks, with both Washington (3rd) and the Giants (7th) finishing in the Top 10. The Eagles, meanwhile, were right in the middle of the pack, which feels about right. They aren't wildly better, but it's hard to be any worse than they were in 2020. At least we hope not. 

17. Philadelphia Eagles

Big additions: S Anthony Harris, WR DeVonta Smith, C Landon Dickerson, CB Steven Nelson, ED Ryan Kerrigan, LB Eric Wilson, RB Kerryon Johnson, QB Joe Flacco

Key losses: QB Carson Wentz, DT Malik Jackson, DB Jalen Mills, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Alshon Jeffery, LB Nathan Gerry, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

The Eagles' roster is as shaky as it has been in a long time, but their offseason probably wasn't as bad as it seems. Wentz is out after a rough year, but Jalen Hurts is waiting in the wings with veterans Flacco and Nick Mullens added as backup plans. That's not an ideal situation, but also not worse than what they got out of the position in 2020.

The loss of Malik Jackson up front is notable, but Harris and Nelson are major upgrades in the secondary. DeSean Jackson and Jeffery were all but non-factors last season, whereas reigning Heisman Trophy winner Smith will immediately step into an every-down role. Wilson is an upgrade on Gerry, and Kerrigan adds quality depth at edge rusher.  [ESPN]

The silver lining? The Cowboys finished four spots behind the Eagles in 21st. Of course, the return of Dak Prescott from injury isn't factored into that, so... 

If you build it...

Jeff McLane | Inquirer.com

The biggest change with the Eagles — at least when it comes to the actual roster — is that Jalen Hurts is the starting quarterback. If you had told most Eagles fans a year ago that this would be the case on August 3, 2021, they probably would've laughed at you. 

But it's Jalen Hurts' team, at least for now, and if the Eagles truly want to learn if he can be the future of the team at QB, they should be doing everything possible to try to cater the offense to his skillset — even if it's not exactly the ideal system for Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. There's too much at stake this year for the Eagles not to get a definitive answer on whether or not they need to look elsewhere at QB (more on that in a bit). Here's more from Jeff McLane of The Inquirer... 

One age-old concern about young coaches is that they often focus too much on running a particular scheme vs. catering a system to the very specific needs of certain players. The Sirianni-Steichen offense may be the more sustainable offense over the long haul, but will it bring out the best in Hurts?

It’s possible their passing concepts are so precise that his accuracy will improve. Doug Pederson’s system had become predictable by the time Hurts became the starter late last season.

But if Hurts is averaging 40 drops a game, and with the majority of throws from the pocket, then it stands to reason whether Sirianni envisions a quarterback he didn’t draft as being his long-term answer.

But if the Eagles modify the offense to be run-based and the passing game to be not as much from the pocket, like the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson and the Browns did with Baker Mayfield, then maybe Hurts has a chance to develop.  [Inquirer.com]

Airing it out

Jeff Kerr | CBS Sports

While modifying the system to be more run-heavy could benefit Hurts, that hasn't been the focus so far at camp. In fact, the Eagles have been trying to get Hurts to work on his deep ball quite a bit. That's certainly the right approach at practice. You don't need to practice how to run — and in a red jersey, can you even practice it? — but you do practice your throws, especially to work on timing with your wide receivers. That's a must for any QB, not just a new starting still developing a rapport with his receivers. 

So far, Hurts has impressed, writes Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports...

Hurts has been airing out the deep ball through the early portion of camp, having plenty of results that's been encouraging to the Eagles coaching staff. The Eagles quarterback hit Quez Watkins on a deep ball in the 7-on-7 session Monday, and has connected with DeVonta Smith a few times in camp. 

Hurts has used his legs on occasion to make plays, but has been working on staying in the pocket and going through his progressions. The Eagles aren't going to put their quarterback in a box and limit his abilities. They'll work with his game -- not the other way around. 

"We are going to try to do whatever we can to put our players in the best position to make plays," Steichen said. "So, we are going to cater the system to what our players do best. I said that in the spring, and I think that's the biggest thing is, 'What do our guys do best and let's put them in position to make plays.'"  [CBS Sports]

Hurts' fantasy potential

Adam Hermann | NBC Sports Philadelphia

A lot of people have fantasy drafts coming up, and for Eagles fans, it's always worth considering drafting some of your team's own players. So, what about Jalen Hurts? We already know he's a threat on the ground. And we just talked about how his aerial attack looks improved — not to mention a new weapon in DeVonta Smith, once he's healthy that is. Could he be a legit fantasy option this year? Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia weighs in... 

Hurts had just 14.5 quarters as QB1 last season, but in that time he put up 1,028 passing yards, 301 rushing yards, and nine combined touchdowns. As NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank examined last week, Hurts was on pace for the most combined passing and rushing touchdowns by any Eagle in franchise history in his 2020 starts. Over a full 17-game season that equates to 4,820 passing yards, 1,411 rushing yards, and 42.2 combined touchdowns. 

Now, is that what Hurts’ 2021 season will look like? Probably not. Those are wild numbers, even with a 17th game tacked on this season. But if he puts up 80% of that line, he’s clearly worth a starting QB spot after the first handful of obvious names are off the board. 

And there’s no reason to think he won’t be an improved player after an entire offseason program geared towards him being the starter, entering an offense that will ideally be designed around maximizing Hurts’ dual-threat abilities as both a passer and a runner. Last year he was operating in an offense built around Wentz, a mobile QB but by no means a dual-threat, particularly not post-2017 ACL tear Wentz.  [NBCS Philly]

Keeping their options open

Peter King | Pro Football Talk

If the Eagles aren't sold on Hurts — stop me if you've heard this before — the team will look elsewhere this offseason. And even though it's now looking like they'll have two first-round picks instead of three thanks to Carson Wentz's injury, they could still get in on a bidding war for any number of QBs, not to mention their ability to trade up in the draft and address the need that way as well. 

Much of the talk this offseason has been about Deshaun Watson, who remains with the Texans. But what about Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who just reworked his deal in Green Bay with the expectation being that he'll be looking to play elsewhere in 2022? Peter King seems to think the Eagles will be one of the teams that get on the Rodgers sweepstakes... 

"Denver is such a perfect team for Rodgers in 2022. I’m sure Carolina and Philadelphia and Washington will enter the fray if/when Green Bay trades him, but sending him to the AFC minimizes the rematches which I’m sure the Packers would want to avoid at all costs."  [ProFootballTalk]

That's definitely something worth monitoring. But the Eagles would need to improve the rest of their roster dramatically for it to ever make sense to bring a guy like Rodgers in here at this stage in his career. In other words, they'd need to be a lot higher than No. 17 on Clay's list next summer.

Yup, we just went full circle. 

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