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How Eagles’ Jason Huntley went from ‘sh**’ to standout in 2nd training camp


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How Eagles’ Jason Huntley went from ‘sh**’ to standout in 2nd training camp

Posted Aug 06, 2021

By Mike Kaye | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Huntley had just finished a pass-protection drill rep on the NovaCare Complex practice field when fellow Eagles running back Kerryon Johnson pulled him aside. Johnson and Huntley were teammates in Detroit last summer when the latter was a rookie, and Johnson wanted to give Huntley a brutally honest assessment of what he noticed during the drill.

"I said ‘When you first went to Detroit, you were sh** at this,’” Johnson said Wednesday. "He said, ‘I know,’ and then I said ‘But now, you go up there with some fire, some intensity.’ Being a small guy, that drill is hard, any pass-pro drill is going to be tough.”

Huntley’s rookie season was a humbling experience. After getting selected in the fifth round by the Lions, Huntley missed out on a traditional rookie minicamp and offseason program due to the coronavirus pandemic. Training camp was difficult without the standard organized team activities that prepare young players for the grind of summer.

Huntley was lost, not just in pass protection, but in all aspects.

"I missed OTAs, so when I got in there, I was in with the [first team] and [then-Lions QB Matthew Stafford],” Huntley said. "I had to know checks and all of that.”

Despite being a Day 3 pick, Huntley wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt from the Lions’ brass. Without a preseason to show off his speed in a game setting, Huntley was pushed out because of some hiccups in practice.

The Lions waived Huntley during final cuts last September. The Eagles claimed him the next day.

While the Eagles’ staff raved about Huntley’s college film, then-head coach Doug Pederson rarely used the New Mexico State alum.

Huntley spent most Sundays on the inactive list. As then-special teams coordinator Dave Fipp struggled to find a consistent playmaker at kick returner, Huntley, who scored on five kick returns at New Mexico State, sat and watched.

Huntley appeared in just five games as a rookie. He returned two kicks and ran the ball five times for 19 yards, an early NFL resume not worth hanging his helmet on.

That’s why Huntley -- now with new coaches to impress -- was thrilled to get a more traditional offseason this year. With new head coach Nick Sirianni and new running backs coach Jemal Singleton guiding the running game, Huntley has another fresh start, with added preparation time.

Huntley took advantage of the reshaped offseason program in May, learning the offense and getting a feel for the play-calling tendencies. He returned to training camp last month prepared to compete.

The 5-foot-9, 193-pound back has improved with an actual offseason under his belt.

"Obviously, he’s always been fast, and he still is,” Johnson said. "But, just other areas of his game [are improving]. It’s just good to see.”

Huntley’s trademark speed has been on display with regularity during the first eight practices of camp. Huntley seems to have at least one breakaway run in team drills daily. He’s also impressing his competition in pass-protection sets.

"He goes in there with no fright,” Johnson said. "He puts his head down, he tries to get the block done and that’s half the battle in pass-pro right there, so I’ve seen tremendous growth."

In a crowded room -- with a bunch of standouts -- each player needs to find his own niche.

Miles Sanders is the do-it-all back. Boston Scott is the scrappy jack-of-all-trades. Johnson is the third-down back with blocking and receiving skills. Jordan Howard is the seasoned ground-and-pound back. Kenny Gainwell is the flashy rookie that can be used as a movable chess piece.

But what about Huntley? He’s the home-run threat with special return ability.

"I think that’s what’s a part of me being me,” Huntley said. "My speed and me playing special teams.”

Huntley has found a notable confidant in starting quarterback Jalen Hurts.

During the first week of training camp, Huntley picked up a huge gain on a handoff towards the end of team drills. Hurts, who was watching the third-team offense and defense battle, ran over to Huntley from the other side of the field, and the two engaged in a personalized handshake to celebrate the running back’s highlight play.

Hurts, who is known for mobility, could help bring out the best in Huntley, as the threat of either player carrying the ball for a huge gain would be apparent for any defense. It’s one thing to plan for the dual-threat ability of Hurts, but adding Huntley’s speed element to the equation could cause even more headaches.

That’s an outlook worth salivating over if you’re a play-caller like Sirianni, especially given his tendency to use Speed 21 (2 RBs, 1 TE) personnel in training camp practice.

With an actual preseason to show off his skills, Huntley will try to convince the coaching staff that he could be a regular weapon in the offense, alongside his buddy, Hurts.

If he can transition from making standout plays in practice to scoring touchdowns in preseason games, Huntley might go from underdog to role player on the 53-man roster, exactly a year after being shown the door by the Lions.

As he enters the home stretch of the roster evaluation process, Huntley has a clear directive in mind: "I just go out there, and every time I touch the play, [I try] to make a play.”


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We need a kick and punt returner on the roster.  Haven't had a good one since Mitchell

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39 minutes ago, weko said:

We need a kick and punt returner on the roster.  Haven't had a good one since Mitchell

I do hope we get to see him returning some kicks this preseason.  He was a pretty good KOR in college.  

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