Eagles notebook: Do Eagles need to adjust as Hurts deals with knee injury?

Eagles notebook: Do Eagles need to adjust as Hurts deals with knee injury? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Jalen Hurts is going to play on Sunday against the Commanders.

He wasn’t on the Eagles’ practice report all week, which means he was a full participant and he wasn’t given a game status.

But we all know he’s dealing with a knee injury and we all saw him wearing that little brace on his left knee during the win over the Dolphins on Sunday Night Football.

So do the Eagles have to alter their play-calling with their knowledge of his injury?

“We talk about this a lot … any time we run any of these designed quarterback runs, we always have Jalen’s health in mind,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said.

“He’s as tough as they come, and he does a great job of communicating what he is seeing out there. So, for us when we put the plan together, those are questions that we always ask ourselves and answer ourselves on a weekly basis. Not only specifically with quarterback runs, but with every play. We kind of go through– what are the potential land mines? What are the issues that could happen with this particular scheme? Then we act accordingly.”

Hurts, 25, is extremely tough. That’s obviously a good thing. The Eagles know he’s going to play through just about anything if he can.

But can the coaching staff trust Hurts to tell them when he’s injured? Ehhh … probably not. We saw that play out against the Bears last season when Hurts suffered an injury to his shoulder and finished the game but then missed the next two.

If the Eagles know the importance of altering the game plan when Hurts is injured but sometimes don’t know when he’s injured, that can be a bit of a problem.

Johnson on Tuesday was asked if Hurts communicates his injuries throughout games or if the coaching staff just has to keep their eyes peeled.

“There’s been occasions over the past three years where it’s been both,” Johnson admitted. “And I think as Jalen continues to grow and continue to develop as a player, we always talk about our communication has to be very seamless, and that’s key to organizing the entire thing is everybody has to be on the same page.

We have to be able to communicate and have conversations about what we’re seeing out there on the field and react accordingly to that.”

First start out of the way

As the Eagles dealt with injuries at the safety position last week, rookie Sydney Brown made his first career start. And he played fairly well.

“I thought I played my role right,” the third-round pick from Illinois said. “Anytime you have an opportunity to get on the field, it’s a big one, especially in the game that we had coming up. I think I was strong going in, I was confident going in. Just happy to get back out there, especially after three weeks of injury, kind of feel that game again and get back in and play some dominant football.”

Of course, Brown is likely heading back to the bench after the Eagles traded for Kevin Byard this week. The Eagles’ starting duo will now be Byard and Reed Blankenship.

But Brown will be a top backup/rotational player at both safety and nickel cornerback. And he was fully on board with the Eagles’ trade.

“I think it’s a great move,” Brown said. “I’m excited to have him in the room, especially him being an 8-year vet and everything that he’s done in the past. I think if you search up some of the top safeties in the game, he’s a name that comes up a lot. I’m blessed to be in the position I am and have a vet like that come to the room. Obviously, with the partnership with Blankenship, they’re going to do a great job on the back end.”

Experience in the secondary

When the Eagles are at full strength, here’s their most likely starting secondary:

CB Darius Slay (Age 32)
CB James Bradberry (Age 30)
NCB Bradley Roby (Age 31)
S Reed Blankenship (Age 24)
S Kevin Byard (Age 30)

Yeah, that’s four of five starters who are 30 or older. Not exactly how you would normally design a secondary. But the Eagles are clearly Super Bowl contenders this season and that is their best bet in a secondary that hasn’t started the same group in back-to-back games all year.

With older players there’s inherent risk of injury or decline but the Eagles are looking at the big positive.

“I think that is the value, the experience,” DC Sean Desai said this week. “The guys that have played a lot of football and seen a lot of football, you can always rely on their bank of knowledge, and we’re growing that.

“The good thing is in this first part of the season a lot of our young guys have had to grow up and gain some experiences, and they’ve done a good job of embracing that, and our coaching staff has done a good job of getting them prepared to do that. This league is about that. Having experiences, going through some things. And whether it’s winning or losing, you have to go through those trials and tribulations to callous yourself a little bit and get better, and we’re doing that.”

For Byard, he thinks having a veteran group around him will help with his adjustment of learning a new defense. He can lean on their experience to help him. And you’d have to imagine that experience will help with communication on the back end, especially when the Eagles need it in zone coverage.

Expect Byard to play a lot on Sunday.

Don’t forget the weather

While conditions for the Eagles-Commanders game on Sunday at FedExField look great, it’s almost November in the Northeast, which means the kicking game is going to start getting a little tricky.

We saw that on Sunday night at the Linc when a bunch of kickoffs to one side of the field didn’t make it to the end zone for touchbacks. In the moment, they might have looked like strategic decisions. Nope.

“Wasn’t a decision,” special teams coordinator Michael Clay said. “It’s Mother Nature that made that decision for all of us.”

Dolphins kick returner Braxton Berrios returned four kickoffs for 105 yards (26.3 average) with a long of 33. Boston Scott got to return his first kick of the season and took it 38 yards. It was a nice return.

Scott took over for Britain Covey as the kick returner midway through the 2022 season and has been good. Over the last two years, Scott has a kick return average of 27.8. Among the 43 players league-wide who have returned at least 10 kickoffs, that average ranks fifth.

“He does a great job,” Clay said. “A lot of the times, very similar to punt returner, has to happen with those ten guys ahead of them. It’s almost a blessing in disguise. You had six weeks of doing a lot of individual getting ready for that opportunity and it’s all the guys buying in like, hey, if we have an opportunity, we have a really good returner in Boston Scott back there that can really flip the field, and a lot of good blocks happen.”

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