After transferring to Oklahoma from Alabama, Jalen Hurts lit up the Big 12 in 2019 with over 5100 total yards of offense and 52 total touchdowns. Under Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley, Hurts came close to replicating the success that Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray had the previous season.
There’s a matchup brewing on Sunday between the two latest stud OU quarterbacks in Hurts and Murray when the Eagles take on the Cardinals. Bleeding Green Nation spoke with Jack Shields, the Editor-in-Chief of Crimson And Cream Machine, SB Nation’s Oklahoma Sooners site, to get the low down on Hurts adapting to the pro level and how he compares to Murray.
BGN: Did you get a chance to check out Jalen Hurts’ play against the Saints? What did you make of it if so? His escapability stood out. What did you think his greatest strength was coming out of OU and his most translatable pro skill?
Shields: I sure did, and my initial impression is that Doug Pederson is handling this perfectly from a schematic standpoint. Utilizing his skill as a runner was part of it, but even more important was the fact that the game plan was intended to create easy reads for Hurts. He hasn’t always been particularly adept at getting rid of the football in a timely manner, so simplifying the offense was the obvious move in his first start.
His greatest strengths as a quarterback – other than his ability as a runner in short-yardage situations – are undoubtedly his poise, level-headedness and maturity both on and off the field. Prior to even entering the NFL, the guy had been through every big moment imaginable. He’d been on some of the biggest stages, had entered the most hostile environments, had overcome one of the more unique career setbacks a college quarterback has experienced, and was able to learn Lincoln Riley’s offense and take the reins with only one offseason under his new coach’s tutelage. He’s also just a gamer, and I’d cite Oklahoma comeback from a 28-3 deficit against Baylor in 2019 as a prime example of this.
BGN: Kyler Murray and Hurts put up back-to-back killer years for the Sooners under Lincoln Riley. What elements of Riley’s offense made them so successful? What could Eagles head coach Doug Pederson learn from Riley’s system and incorporate into the Eagles’ offense?
Shields: Part of what makes Riley so great is his ability to adjust his scheme to suit his personnel from year to year without missing much of a beat. This was never more evident than in 2019 when Hurts entered the fold. He simply wasn’t the polished passer that Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were (and are), but Riley utilized Hurts’ strengths by adding more designed runs and zone read wrinkles. At times, there was a bit of overlap with what Dallas did early in Dak Prescott’s career, and you saw a bit of it in Hurts’ first start with the Eagles.
BGN: Murray was the first-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Hurts went 53rd this past year. What separated them in your mind as prospects? Were they possibly closer in your eyes than in the minds of pro scouts? Do you think Hurts can be a starting-caliber QB or potentially even more?
Shields: One of Hurts’ biggest flaws is his slow throwing motion. This was one of the challenges Riley faced in installing him a year ago, as Hurts’ predecessors (Mayfield and Murray) had the arm talent and quick release that allowed the OU offense to utilize quick outs and other quick-developing routes, and this just wasn’t always an option with Hurts. Additionally, he just isn’t quite as decisive as a passer and would often hold onto the ball for far too long. Then there’s just the matter of downfield accuracy, which Hurts has struggled with in the past.
His arm strength isn’t an issue; it’s just that some of the technical matters have held him back as a passer. As I’ve said, you just have to cater to his skill set.