untung99.biz: Jalen Hurts health takes priority in the Eagles preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens

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BALTIMORE — Moments before the Eagles ran back into the visitors tunnel ahead of their preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday evening, Jalen Hurts stood in the center of the east end zone and delivered his pregame speech to his teammates.

The 25-year-old franchise quarterback participated in warmups while sporting his full uniform with pads and a helmet. Hurts handled snaps from veteran center Jason Kelce. He handed footballs off to running back Kenneth Gainwell. He tossed a string of completions to wide receiver DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. Hurts even busted a few dance moves at the conclusion of the stretching period.

It seemed like his typical game-day routine.

However, when the Eagles reentered the field for kickoff, Hurts, along with a majority of the team’s starters, were no longer in uniform as coach Nick Sirianni elected to keep his top contributors sidelined for the first of three exhibition contests. Without Hurts and the starters, the Eagles lost to the Ravens, 20-19, at M&T Bank Stadium.

Hurts sported a white T-shirt, black shorts, a midnight green cap, and a coaching headset, he took in the game alongside offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Hurts meticulously observed backup quarterback Marcus Mariota and the second-team offense work against the Ravens, who also trotted out their reserves.

The opening drive was mostly indicative of what we’ve seen from Mariota and the reserves throughout training camp. Mariota completed just 3-of-7 passes for 24 yards, while he overthrew several of his intended targets. Mariota did extend the drive with his legs on two separate instances; once on a third-down scramble and again on a perfectly executed zone read on fourth down. However, the 14-play drive stalled just outside Baltimore’s red zone, and the Eagles settled for a 45-yard field goal from Jake Elliott.

“To get live action in the system, I’ve always been a reps guy, I learn more from experience,” Mariota said. “To get into these different situations, it’s important for me to get comfortable in the system. Brian Johnson was great. It’s a very underrated talent to communicate on the headset. He made it very efficient for us to get the plays in and out.”

Earlier in the week, Sirianni revealed one of his biggest focuses in the preseason opener would be improving the communication level between his coaching staff that features new coordinators Johnson and Sean Desai.

“It’s really important for us that we’re operating at a high level,” Sirianni said.

Sirianni claims the Eagles won’t hold back when deciding how to deploy Hurts once the games count. This offseason, Hurts signed a five-year extension worth $255 million after he emerged as an NFL MVP candidate in 2022. He finished with a combined 4,461 yards and 35 total touchdowns (22 passing, 13 rushing). His ability as a rushing threat offers the offense a unique dynamic, particularly in the run-pass-option.

Hurts’ willingness to fight for extra yards and embrace contact has come at a toll, though. Over the past two seasons, Hurts has missed three games due to injury. Although he was a healthy scratch against the Ravens, Hurts has looked terrific through the first three weeks of camp while working inside and outside the pocket.

For now, Hurts’ health will take priority.

Sirianni and the coaching staff factored in the remaining training camp schedule when piecing together Hurts’ workload. Following the team’s first exhibition, the Eagles will host three joint practices and two preseason games with the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts in consecutive weeks.

Jalen Carter shines early

It took just one play for Eagles top rookie Jalen Carter to flash.

With the Ravens facing third-and-10 at the beginning of the first quarter, Carter, the No. 9 pick from April’s draft, lined up in the 3-technique and he forced an errant throw from Ravens backup quarterback Josh Johnson, resulting in a quick three-and-out. On the play, Carter displayed his strength by erasing Ravens right guard Ben Cleveland with a rapid rip move. Within seconds, Carter was in the backfield, and he forced Johnson to escape the pocket and toss a bad incompletion that landed near the Eagles’ sideline.

“I knew it was going to be a pass [play],” Carter said. “We were in certain rush front. So I’m thinking pass pass off the rip, so I got off the ball and I felt [Cleveland’s] presence heavy on my left shoulder, so I hit him inside. It was natural. I’ve been playing football all my life. So I try to play my best like I usually do.”

Saturday’s brief action marked an impressive debut and quarterback pressure for Carter, who has heightened expectations as he joins a defensive front featuring Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, and Marlon Tuipulotu.

“He was about to flush him out to me and I thought we were going to get a little half sack each,” fellow rookie defensive end Nolan Smith said of Carter. “Man, I just know JC puts his best foot forward all the time. He’s a baller and that’s what he does. I knew it was coming. It wasn’t nothing surprising to me. Maybe surprising to other people. But I feel really good about his preparation.”

McPhearson handles nickel, punt returns

Third-year cornerback Zech McPhearson grew up less than 15 minutes away from M&T Bank Stadium. He said Saturday’s game was extremely emotional for him being back in his hometown stadium for the first time in his NFL career. And with Britain Covey out due to injury, McPhearson stepped into uncharted territory as he handled two punts for 10 return yards in the second half.

“It really just started this week,” he explained. “As DBs, we like to talk and joke about how we can do everything. [Special teams coordinator] Michael Clay told me I’m going to be up for punt returns this week because of the [lack of] bodies. He saw me do it in practice, and my opportunity came. I always joke about it, but then they came to me and told me I’d be up. The first thing I kept telling myself was, ‘just catch the ball!’”

As for his start at nickel cornerback, McPherson, who had 30-plus family members and friends in attendance, said he’s feeling more and more comfortable with each rep.

“It felt good,” he said. “I’ve been working in the slot in OTAs and camp. Now going out there and doing it…the sky is the limit. Just keep on learning from Avonte Maddox, he’s a seasoned vet in there.”

Linebacker Shaun Bradley sustained an apparent serious lower right leg injury while he was on the field for a special-teams snap in the third quarter. During the play, Bradley lined up on the left side of long snapper Rick Lovato. As rookie Ty Zentner booted a 46-yard punt, Bradley appeared to sustain the injury while he attempted to block for Zentner near the line of scrimmage. Bradley was unable to put any pressure on his right foot and he needed to be carted off the field.

Sirianni also revealed wide receivers Quez Watkins and Covey sustained hamstring injuries earlier in the week during practice. Watkins has nearly cemented himself as the offense’s No. 3 wideout behind A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, while Covey is the team’s featured punt returner.