PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The first peek at Jalen Hurts on the first day of the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp was his printed image — his eyes covered by cool sunglasses — on the front of coach Nick Sirianni’s green T-shirt. The shirt pairs well with the black “ HURTS SZN ” hat wide receiver A.J. Brown rocked when he arrived at the team’s complex.
The message was clear: Yes, the Eagles have the QB’s merch — but they also have his back.
The Hurts defenders broke out in numbers Wednesday — as did the few hundred fans that formed an L around the sideline and back of an end zone to watch 58 minutes of practice — to tell critics, the rest of the NFL, any haters that they have faith in their third-year QB.
Point made, the Eagles belong to Hurts.
“Hey, he’s our quarterback,” Sirianni said Wednesday of his fashion choice. “What a better way to connect with him than to wear his shirt.”
Hurts came a long way in his first full season as the starting QB. He threw for 3,166 yards and 16 TDs with nine interceptions, completing 61.3% of his passes in the regular season. He also led the team with 784 yards rushing and 10 TDs.
But a dismal performance in the Eagles’ playoff loss at Tampa Bay (that included two crushing interceptions) and a report of sluggish performance at organized team activities that ballooned out of control has led to a bit of damage control of late.
Brown, a 2020 Pro Bowl pick acquired in April from Tennessee, was one of Hurts’ staunchest defenders on social media after a question was raised about poor performance at an OTA.
“The story wasn’t true,” Brown said. “False narratives come out about quarterbacks and guys have to understand, it’s practice.”
Hurts recalled being surprised by a conversation with Brown that dovetailed into the wide receiver explaining his defensive tweets.
“They talking crazy! They talking about you!” Hurts said, laughing at Brown’s side of the call.
Hurts simply brushed off criticism. Brown added of OTAs and training camp, “there are the times we try things.”
Like, for example, plays drawn up straight out of Instagram.
Forget the stodgy days of X’s and O’s diagrammed in the playbook. Brown, who has 185 receptions for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons, discovered a play he liked off a Cam Newton video posted on IG and planned to suggest it to Hurts.
Hurts and Brown privately worked out around 6:30 a.m. — well before the 10 a.m. start of the first camp practice — to continue to foster the chemistry needed for big seasons from both of them.
Has the personal connection already transferred to a professional one on the field?
Hey, it’s only Day 1.
In Philly, though, that means practice must be treated with all the gravitas of a regular-season game. Eagles fans kept their eyes and smartphone cameras fixed on Hurts. Beat writers tracked Hurts’ statistics with the diligence of a Super Bowl scorekeeper (Hurts went 12 of 15 with four touchdowns and one interception, per one report ) and players stuck around to sign autographs and snap selfies.
Sirianni laughed when he said fans rushed up to him and blurted talk-radio worthy expectations of the season: “I can’t tell you how many times this year or this summer somebody’s come up to me and said: ‘Hey, NFC East! Then we’re going to have a home playoff game! Then we’re going to win that one! Then we’ll just see what happens.’”
His message back to the diehards: Slow your roll.
“We’ve got training camp to do,” he said.
The bookies also urge caution, with the Eagles facing 30-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
So does management.
“Our most talented teams have not necessarily been our best teams,” Eagles general manger Howie Roseman said.
Consider 2011, when a series of bold offseason moves led QB Vince Young to call the roster a “dream team,” only for the Eagles to miss the playoffs at 8-8.
The Eagles started last season 2-5 but won seven of the next nine to secure a playoff berth. They finished 0-7 vs. playoff teams.
Hurts and Sirianni are set to work together for a second straight season and both are counting on another year together to inch them closer toward winning the NFC East.
“The more you know somebody, both personally and about their style of play, the more you can adapt the plan to them,” Sirianni said. “We have 17, 18 games of proof of what he likes, what he tells us, a whole year of a relationship. We feel like we’ve narrowed it down to the things he likes, the things he does well.”
Brown loved that Sirianni wore a Hurts T-shirt and called the move “lit.” And his own sense of style with the Hurts cap was motivated by a fast friendship that they both hope will eventually end up with them celebrating a Super Bowl victory.
“I want everyone to know it’s Hurts season. I’m excited for him,” Brown said. "He’s working really hard and I’ll be right beside him every step of the way.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL