Eagles' Jalen Hurts and Cardinals' Kyler Murray share similar history and future
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray never shared an offense at Oklahoma even though Hurts was the starting quarterback in 2019, one year after Murray was the starter.
That came one year after Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was the starter.
Mayfield and Murray were the first overall picks in the 2018 and 2019 drafts, respectively, while Hurts was taken in the second round last spring.
Yet the closest Hurts and Murray ever came to playing on the same field came at the 2018 Orange Bowl, when Hurts was still at Alabama. Hurts had lost his starting job by then to Tua Tagovailoa, who led the 45-34 win over Murray and the Sooners.
Hurts threw one pass in the game, completing it for 10 yards. He also had a 4-yard run and a 9-yard reception.
That was much like Hurts' first 11 games with the Eagles – a few plays here and there, always leaving those wondering what would happen if he had more chances.
Well, that's happening now as Hurts will start his second game in place of the benched Carson Wentz, and it will come against Murray and the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium near Phoenix.
"He paved the way for a guy like me to come (to Oklahoma) and have an opportunity to put myself in the same era as his, put my name in the same era as his," Hurts said. "Obviously, Baker, Kyler both had great years and won Heisman trophies, so I have a lot of respect for both of those guys and the things that they’ve done."
Hurts finished as the Heisman runner-up last season. He threw for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns while running for 1,298 yards and 20 TDs.
It was comparable to what Murray did the year before. Murray had 4,361 yards passing and 42 TDs while running for 1,001 yards and 12 TDs.
Since 2000, Murray and Hurts are the only two FBS quarterbacks to have totaled at least 3,500 passing yards, 1,000 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns in a single season.
Murray has carried that over to the NFL. He has 3,231 passing yards and 712 rushing yards this season for the Cardinals (7-6). He has a chance to become the first player in NFL history with more than 4,000 passing yards and 900 rushing yards in a season.
As for Hurts, he passed for 167 yards and ran for 106 more in his first start last Sunday, when he led the Eagles to a 24-21 win over the New Orleans Saints. Hurts and the Ravens' Lamar Jackson are the only quarterbacks to rush for 100 yards or more in their NFL debut.
Hurts' success in his first game didn't surprise Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was coaching at Texas Tech before getting the Cardinals job in the spring of 2019. Kingsbury tried recruiting both Murray and Hurts to Texas Tech when they were coming out of high school in Texas – Hurts in the Houston area and Murray near Dallas.
"I've always been a big fan of (Hurts), his character, his work ethic," Kingsbury said. "He has all those things in spades. So to watch the career he had at Alabama and the job he did at Oklahoma, and now getting this opportunity and taking advantage of it, it’s been a lot of fun to see."
Of course, having Murray also helps Kingsbury and the Cardinals prepare for Hurts and what the Eagles might run.
"No doubt," Kingsbury said. "We go against each other all week full speed with some good reps. To be able to have a guy that can move definitely helps simulate that look ... But Jalen is a physical runner, big strong, tough, faster than I think people realize. He made a bunch of plays with his feet the other day against a really good Saints defense."
This is also Hurts' challenge.
It's one thing to catch a team by surprise like Hurts and the Eagles did against the Saints. There was very limited video of Hurts. Before Hurts replaced Wentz in the third quarter against the Packers on Dec. 3, he only had 33 offensive snaps in 11 games.
Hurts only tried three passes in those 11 games, completing all of them for 33 yards. Even against the Packers, Hurts came in with the Eagles down 20-3. The game plan that day was designed for Wentz.
Kingsbury and the Cardinals, then, were able to see a full game plan for Hurts. In addition, by having Murray, they're able to simulate the kind of running plays and read-options that the Eagles will likely use.
"Jalen has to understand now it’s a whole new defense," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a different structure, different personnel. The scheme is differently defensively, and so what we did and had success against New Orleans may not apply this week.
"I think this week will be a great opportunity for him to go back and just study himself, make corrections, clean up what he needs to clean up, and try to present the same thing again Sunday."
Hurts' teammates are confident that he can do it after seeing his poise and confidence in his first start.
"It was impressive how poised he is in the huddle," running back Miles Sanders said, adding that at one point, Hurts stuttered when calling a play in the huddle.
When asked to elaborate, Sanders said: "He had to calm himself down. He didn’t rattle. We didn’t rush him. We just looked at him. He took a deep breath and he said the play. It was a play with a whole bunch of the same letters. It’s hard to say sometimes."
Of course, Sanders thrived with Hurts in the game. He rushed for a season-high 115 yards, including an 82-yard TD run.
That was Sanders' third carry of 74 yards or more this season. Two of them came with Hurts on the field.
Sanders said that's no coincidence.
"You have to respect a guy like that who’s effective with his legs and his arm," Sanders said. "You’re putting a defense on their toes. You don’t know whether to keep a spy in the middle, or bend, scrape, whatever it is, but it’s hard to stop."
The Cardinals already know this with Murray. The Eagles are trying to see it with Hurts. Pederson said he started Hurts against the Saints because he was hoping Hurts could spark the offense.
What does Pederson expect in Hurts' second start?
"I'm hoping the spark is a little bit brighter and more of a flame now," he said with a laugh.
As for the two quarterbacks themselves, they only met once, after Murray had left Oklahoma for the NFL.
"He came to the first game last year versus the University of Houston," Hurts said. "He gave me some great advice, just go out there and play your game, let it come to you. I much appreciated it."
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.