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Eagles QB Jalen Hurts shifts into higher gear for 2022 season

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Eagles QB Jalen Hurts shifts into higher gear for 2022 season

By Ralph Vacchiano

FOX Sports NFC East Writer

Every time Jalen Hurts dropped back to make a throw this summer, it was clear something was different. His teammates noticed him throwing faster. His coaches saw him making decisions quicker. Everyone thought he looked more comfortable running the offense.

That’s because he was.

In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had to think all the way back to his teenage years to find a time when he was as comfortable as he was this summer, when he knew an offense as well as he knows the Eagles’ scheme now. It hadn’t happened since the days when he was running his dad’s offense at Clearview High School in Texas.

“This is my first time having the same play caller and same coach since I had my dad in high school when I was 16,” the third-year pro said at the start of training camp. “I think there’s a big difference in that.”

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The Eagles are counting on that as they enter what they hope will be a long and successful Hurts Era in Philadelphia. They have gone all-in on their 24-year-old starter in every way possible — from public support, such as Eagles coach Nick Sirianni wearing a T-shirt with Hurts’ face on it on the first day of training camp, to spending first- and third-round picks and $100 million on a No. 1 receiver in A.J. Brown, who just happens to also be one of Hurts’ best friends.

They have done everything they could to make it clear to Hurts and to everyone that they believe in him after his up-and-down first full season as a starter, and that they are committed to building around him long-term. But the most important thing they did is to embrace the status quo. Both Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen are back for a second season.

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And that means Hurts won’t have to learn a new scheme, new plays or new terminology for the first time in — incredibly — seven years.

“I think with anything, going into Year 2 and being in the same system for the first time since high school, there’s a comfort level right there,” Steichen said. “Then you can obviously build on that. With anything, with any offense when you’re in it for a while, you can build on it and add wrinkles, and we’re looking at doing some of those things.”

“You can see he’s a year further into it,” Sirianni said. “Decisions are being made quicker and faster each time he gets a rep at it. Just like a lot of quarterbacks in this league, they get better with their decision-making over time.”

Hurts was far from bad at his decision-making last season. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards in 15 starts, with 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions — decent numbers while helping his team rebound from a 2-5 start to make the playoffs. He also was a dangerous dual threat, too, rushing 139 times for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns — a huge part of the No. 1 rushing offense in the league.

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But inside the numbers, there were definitely questions about some of his decisions. He was criticized for being too impatient in the pocket, wanting to quickly bail out and make a run for it, instead of letting plays develop. He rarely used the middle of the field in the passing game, which made the passing offense too low-powered and one-dimensional at times.

It all led to a general feeling that Hurts wasn’t quite comfortable. But the truth is, Hurts hadn’t had a chance to get comfortable anywhere for years. He had three different offensive coordinators in his three years at Alabama, and then another one after he transferred to Oklahoma. And then after the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2020, they fired his head coach, Doug Pederson, after his rookie year.

That left him starting over when Sirianni was hired last year, with his sixth offensive coordinator and sixth offense in six seasons — way too much for a quarterback to experience during some important developmental years from age 18 to 23. There was no consistency with the coaching and the training he got, very little similarities in the rhythm and words of the play calls, or even the concepts of the schemes.

Now there is.

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“I said this a while ago, how settling it is to have some of the same pieces moving forward into another year,” Hurts said. “I know it’s the first time I’ve had that in years. Forever. So it is exciting.”

It has been exciting for the coaching staff, too. And for them, it has been about more than Hurts having a chance to really learn their system. The coaching staff has gotten a chance to really learn about Hurts. A year ago, they were new, learning everything they could about their franchise QB from watching film and seeing him at practices in the spring. They were learning on the fly what he could and couldn’t do.

Now they know, so they spent the offseason tinkering with their scheme, tailoring it toward the things they’ve seen first-hand that Hurts likes and what he does best.

“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’re constantly learning that. Now, we have a much better understanding this year than we did last year. We have 18 games of proof of what he likes and what he tells us and a whole year of a relationship.”

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That’s huge, because as Sirianni said, “You don’t ask a receiver to run a route they can’t run. You don’t ask a running back to read a play that they can’t read. You don’t ask the offensive line to run a scheme they can’t run.” The best coaches learn their players and fit their schemes to them, not the other way around.

And that’s even more important when it comes to a starting quarterback.

“Obviously, the first thought of our mind is about Jalen,” Sirianni said, “because he has so much on his plate.”

He has more on that plate than ever, but the Eagles are convinced he can handle it now. It has made a noticeable difference. His teammates even started to notice it as soon as practices began back in the spring.

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“Jalen looks really good,” tight end Dallas Goedert said in June. “Just him going through his reads, his progressions, I feel like the ball’s got a little more zip on it. He’s getting it out a little bit quicker. You see kind of a 1-2-3 throw. He doesn’t have as many hitches. He’s seeing the game faster, which is really promising.”

“He’s done a hell of a job making the right decisions,” Steichen said late in training camp this summer. “Especially in practice, going through his reads, going through his progressions very nicely. Then when he’s had a chance to make a big play out of the pocket, he’ll take it. If not, he’s doing a good job of throwing the ball away when he needs to.”

That’s the tell-tale sign of growth in a young quarterback, when he starts to learn when to make a play and when to give up. QBs start taking only the necessary chances. And with a dual-threat quarterback such as Hurts, the hope is the comfort level will make him less anxious to leave the pocket just to bail out of a play.

Of course, there’s a balance there. They don’t want him to abandon his legs entirely. 

“That’s one of his superpowers,” Steichen said, “that he can get out on the move and create plays.”

What it all comes down to is this: The Eagles want Hurts, like all young passers, to make better decisions. And it is much easier to do that when a quarterback is not trying to figure out terminology and play progressions in real-time in his head. Hurts was clearly doing that last season, trying to sort out what must have been a jumble of information bouncing around his thoughts, with pieces of six offenses from six straight seasons muddling things up.

Those confusing days are over now. He has had a year-and-a-half to learn Sirianni’s and Steichen’s system, and for them to learn him. Last season was basically an experiment, for both sides to figure and sort things out. The payoff is supposed to be now.

And the Eagles, with a strong offensive line, a powerful rushing attack, and a new No. 1 receiver, have made sure Hurts has a good supporting cast around him. They feel they are loaded. The development of Hurts really feels like the last piece.

And they’re sure it’s not a missing piece anymore.

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“When I showed up in the (“Hurts SZN”) hat, I wanted everyone to know that it’s ‘Hurts season’,” Brown said. “I’m excited for him, his growth. He’s working really hard.”

“I think he’s seeing the field really well, he’s building that memory bank of plays versus different coverages and knowing where to go with the football from that,” Sirianni added. “I think his decision-making process is just continuing to get better. It’s happening fast. It’s happening quickly.

“And he just keeps getting better.”

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and the Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that he spent 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. A Long Island, N.Y. native and graduate of Syracuse University, he can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.

The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.

The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.

Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.

The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.

But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.

Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.

“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”

It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.

Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.

The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”

“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”

The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.

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“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”

He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.

“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”

The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.

“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.

Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.

“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.

Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.

Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.

The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.

The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.

Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.

“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.

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The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.

Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”

Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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