In training camp, a week of practice can feel like a lifetime. That’s why every day of camp creates a new narrative or potential opportunity for players to break out. For quarterbacks, those workouts can be the difference between a complete buy-in from a fan base and utter summer disappointment.
The northeast leg of the Pro Football Network Training Camp Tour has ebbed and flowed with the play of quarterbacks, such as Zach Wilson of the New York Jets, Daniel Jones of the New York Giants, and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kaye’s Takeaways on Jalen Hurts, Zach Wilson, and Daniel Jones
After watching the Giants, Jets, and Eagles practice at their home stadiums in front of thousands of fans, it’s time to check the pulse of each squad’s starting QBs.
Hurts, Wilson, and Jones have all had their series of ups and downs this summer, but the past three days have helped elucidate their overall outlooks through two weeks of training camp.
Jets QB Zach Wilson improves his efficiency with help from a new pal
On Saturday, the Jets hosted their annual Green and White Scrimmage. The practice, which revolved around situational team drills and 11-on-11 drive simulations, was a nice test for Wilson, whose accuracy and efficiency were all over the place during the first two weeks of camp.
That said, Wilson got off to an electric start at MetLife Stadium. Working with the first-team offense, Wilson repeatedly targeted tight end Tyler Conklin, a free agent addition, over the middle of the field. The pair clearly has chemistry, and they connected on all of Conklin’s targets in team drills. Wilson’s passing productivity with Conklin eventually rubbed off on other playmakers, including fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah and wideout Corey Davis.
Wilson looks much more comfortable throwing short and immediate passes than he did as a rookie. Those improvements have largely come with him targeting the middle of the field. Last season, the Jets had inconsistency at tight end, and frankly, the group lacked notable talent.
The signings of Conklin and Uzomah have bolstered an offense that can thrive in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs). Wilson seems to be comfortable using the tight ends as safety blankets, and his connection with the new duo will open things up for his impressive stable of running backs and wide receivers like Davis, Elijah Moore, and first-round pick Garrett Wilson.
Right now, Zach Wilson appears to be on the verge of a major jump in development following a rough rookie season. There has still been the occasional blunder — such as a near-pick and a Del’Shawn Phillips interception on back-to-back plays — but Wilson looks to be gaining ground within the offense. He’s more comfortable in the pocket and seems to be seeing the field more clearly.
If the QB can take advantage of his new weapons — namely Conklin, Uzomah, Garrett Wilson, and rookie running back Breece Hall — the offense should take a massive step forward in Year 2 under coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Giants QB Daniel Jones improves, but there’s still a lot of work to be done
During the first week of camp, Jones appeared to be out of sync with his weapons. He’s learning a new offense (again), and he has a few new weapons in the mix. So, his development within the system has been a work in progress, as to be expected.
The issue for Jones is that he is entering Year 4 with more questions than answers. He has struggled to stay on the field, and when he’s been available, Jones has offered more turnovers than highlight plays. Under new head coach Brian Daboll, both of those patterns need to break.
The Giants declined Jones’ fifth-year option this offseason and brought in veteran QB Tyrod Taylor to push him throughout the season. Both decisions were astute, as the Giants — and really, the NFL — haven’t seen enough from Jones to warrant his status as a franchise QB. But with a new regime comes a new opportunity, and if Jones can take advantage, he should be set up for a major payday in short order.
The second week of camp offered more impressive results, as Jones and wideout Kenny Golladay were finally able to find a semblance of a connection. Jones also continued to make of the most of second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson’s unique shiftiness across the middle of the field. While Jones and last year’s first-round pick, Kadarius Toney, have yet to earn rave reviews for their connection, the QB is at least spreading the ball around to acknowledge his playmakers. That’s a good sign for a quarterback trying to find comfort in a new offense.
On Friday, the Giants hosted their annual FanFest at MetLife Stadium, and Jones had an up-and-down night, completing just over 54% of his passes in team drills. He did a nice job working the middle of the field and seems to be finding his groove with Robinson, who is a yards-after-catch dynamo. There were still some rough misfires, including an overthrow to Golladay in the end zone on 4th-and-goal. But for the most part, Jones got the ball to where it needed to be, even if his receivers couldn’t deliver.
Maybe the most promising sign from Friday was Jones’ composure in the pocket. Sure, he couldn’t be hit in the practice setting, but he looked calm and patient behind the line, even as first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux proved to be unblockable. On a screen pass to running back Saquon Barkley, Jones effectively lured in the front seven, timed his toss perfectly, and set up Barkley with plenty of room to run.
Jones simply needs to be accurate and protect the ball. While that’s easier said than done, the Giants aren’t asking too much from the former first-round pick. This is going to be a long season for the Giants, and a make-or-break campaign for Jones, so it’s important that the QB at least delivers some promise in the coming weeks and months.
Jalen Hurts is improving with the help of a new No. 1 target
Like Wilson with Conklin, Hurts is making the most of his new big-bodied weapon in Philly. Hurts and wideout A.J. Brown are best friends on and off the field, and the new No. 1 wideout has rewarded the QB for constantly targeting him during the summer.
On Sunday, the Hurts-Brown pair connected on a quartet of impressive plays, including a 30-yard touchdown pass, which led to an epic eruption at Lincoln Financial Field. Brown is the type of wideout who can outmuscle a cornerback, and he’s done that throughout training camp. He also has understated speed, which has helped him get open regularly over the middle.
Hurts has improved his accuracy and efficiency across the middle with the help of Brown, who was acquired for first- and third-round picks during Day 1 of the NFL draft in April. Hurts has had trouble seeing the middle of the field early in his career, and throughout practice this summer, he’s gradually targeted that area with comfort. He has also looked much more effective and accurate on deep balls, especially to Brown.
Hurts is still holding the ball much longer than most would like, and he has the occasional underthrow, but for the most part, he looks much more comfortable as a pocket passer. Hurts is notably benefitting from familiarity, as he has the same play-callers and coaches for consecutive offseasons for the first time since high school. Even with trusty weapons like DeVonta Smith and Greg Ward sidelined, he’s been able to move the ball with relative consistency compared to last year.
That said, Hurts still has plenty of work to do with his overarching accuracy, vision, and urge to hang onto the ball. Hurts is obviously a tremendous runner, but he needs to polish up some of the inefficiencies in his passing game, which have crept up regularly in practice.
Bottom line: Of the three QBs on this list, Hurts is the most proven and probably the easiest to feel good about heading into Week 1.