PHILADELPHIA – Moving around the NovaCare Complex practice fields, Eagles quarterbacks were in pads Tuesday for the first time this training camp. The trio of Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, and Nick Mullens were on the field practicing some plays in the team’s new playbook.
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Before practice began, head coach Nick Sirianni gave some insight on how he is building the playbook. Sirianni said that he likes to get input from his quarterbacks to see what plays they feel comfortable running instead of forcing a system on them.
“It doesn’t matter what play (offensive coordinator) Shane Steichen likes or (passing game coordinator), Kevin Patullo or (quarterbacks coach) Brian Johnson. It doesn’t matter what plays we like. It’s important that our quarterbacks are comfortable operating the play because they’re the ones doing it.”
Sirianni added that he has shown them plays from his time with the Indianapolis Colts, and the quarterbacks have run plays from their previous colligate and professional teams.
“There’s a lot of teams running similar plays to each other,” Sirianni said. “It’s a process to figure it out. There’s one thing I like in the meeting room and then coming out and executing it. A lot of that is to be determined, as well, how we practice on the field.”
It is a good approach to have the quarterbacks feel comfortable. For example, you may not want to have Joe Flacco running designed speed option plays and allow him to get hit.
Mullens gave some more insight. Mullens, who the team signed as a free agent this offseason, said the Eagles have more RPOs (run-pass options) in their offense compared to what he saw during his time with the San Francisco 49ers.
“That’s been the biggest thing I’ve done, and I’ve liked. I’ve enjoyed that so far. Everybody has their own philosophies about the run game, but that’s what I have noticed so far.”
The use of various RPO plays allows the Eagles to not only stretch a defense horizontally and potentially open up running lanes inside, but it also could allow the receivers to pick up some good yardage from the outside if the defender the quarterback is reading decides to commit to the running back, leaving a window open for Hurts, Flacco, or Mullens to deliver the ball.
The team also practiced the two-minute drill for the first time. Well, the 1:30 drill, to be exact. However, the offense was not able to score a touchdown during the session.
Here is the Day 6 report card for the three quarterbacks on the Eagles’ roster:
Hurts was not accurate to begin practice. When Hurts began throwing to the running backs, he led them too much. This happened on a throw to Miles Sanders, who was running what looked to be a wheel route. When practice moved to one-on-one drills between receivers and defensive backs, Hurts overthrew passes to the right side targeted for tight ends Dallas Goedert and Hakeem Butler and later threw a pass that was supposed to be toward a receiver’s back shoulder too far inside, resulting in Josiah Scott picking off the throw.
Once the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drill started, he seemed to find a groove. Hurts completed all of his passes in the seven-on-seven, including a nicely thrown ball along the left sideline to wide receiver John Hightower that would have been a touchdown.
For the most part, Hurts made some good decisions. During Mullens media availability, he said that the coaching staff has been pressing them to make decisions quickly, wanting them to know where they want to go with the ball. Hurts accomplished that, finding a receiver in his progression and not hesitating on the throw. He also threw the ball away when no one was open during the two-minute drill.
Hurts did make one throw during the two-minute session that was questionable. When no one was getting open, and the pass rush getting to him, Hurts threw a pass off of his back foot and heaved it to the middle of the field, over the head of a receiver and falling in between four defenders. Maybe he was throwing the ball to get a pass in, but that would not have been the best decision if that were a game.
Hurts threw the most targets toward tight end Zach Ertz, unofficially throwing his way four times. The two seem to be getting on the same page and appear to be getting their timing down.
Play of the Day
The play of the day was not the one that gained the most yards but one that showed progress and toughness. During one of the 11-on-11 sessions, the defense sent an extra pass rusher. Stuck in the pocket and nowhere to run, Hurts stood tall with the defenders closing in and stepped into a throw that landed right into the hands of Ertz for a big gain. The pass was accurate and allowed Ertz to get some yards after the catch.
Hurts came back and had a better second half of practice. Hurts had his best seven-on-seven training camp session, but he has to become more consistent with his accuracy throughout an entire practice. No quarterback is going to be perfect with every throw they make, but Hurts should string together an entire practice where the ball is in the vicinity of the receivers.
Flacco continued to rely on the short routes in practice, spreading the ball around to the running backs and tight ends. Flacco used different arm angles, throwing the ball in practice to fit the ball into receivers.
While the accuracy was good for the most part, there were some hiccups in his throws. Flacco had Andre Patton breaking open at one point down the sideline, but rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson eventually broke up the pass. Flacco also missed high on a target to wide receiver Quez Watkins.
One thing that did happen that was surprising was that two of his passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage. It is surprising because you usually do not see that with a 6-foot, 6-inch quarterback.
Flacco was quick with his decisions, and the ball was generally out on the third step of this quick routes. He also did not force the ball into bad situations.
Flacco targeted Kerryon Johnson the most in Tuesday’s practice, going his way three times. One of the passes was a 20-yard gain on a route that started in the backfield.
Play of the Day
It is hard to tell if Flacco was trying to do a Bernie Kosar impersonation, but he threw a sidearm pass off of his back foot that landed in the hands of wide receiver John Hightower 30 yards down the field. Hightower beat Michael Jacquet on the play.
Flacco had his moments, but it was not the cleanest practice for him. Flacco fumbled when defensive end Josh Sweat came around the edge and stripped the ball from his hands. He continues to succeed in the short passing game, letting the running backs have opportunities to make plays after catching the ball.
Mullens began focusing more on some of the short routes, and it paid off for him, finding running back Kenny Gainwell on a pass out of the backfield for more than 20 yards and throwing an accurate pass to the middle of the field for tight end Tyree Jackson during the first 11-on-11 session of practice for about 10 yards. Mullens missed wide receiver Jhamon Ausmon high on what looked like a seam route.
Mullens decided to throw the high percentage routes on Tuesday. One area where it looked as if he was making the right decisions was the two-minute drill. Although it was against the third-team defense, the offense had its most success with Mullens under center.
Mullens targeted Ausbon and tight end Jack Stoll twice during practice.
Play of the Day
Mullens found Watkins during the seven-on-seven session for a nice gain. Mullens threw the ball high to an area where only Watkins could catch it. Watkins, who settled in between the defenders playing a zone, leaped up and caught the ball.
Mullens had two fumbles during Tuesday’s practice, the second straight day he has put the ball on the ground. He did bounce back to throw the ball better than he did in the last two practices. Mullens looks like he is still working his way back into form since having surgery on his elbow at the end of last season.
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