It may be the biggest single question facing the 2023 Eagles.
How will Brian Johnson manage as Nick Sirianni’s play caller?
Johnson has a hard act to follow in Shane Steichen, who was nothing less than brilliant calling plays from the middle of 2021 through last year before becoming head coach of the Colts.
Johnson has called plays at a high level for an explosive Florida Gators team. He’s understudied with Steichen. He’s coached Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts and Anthony Richardson.
His credentials are impeccable.
But the reality is until we see it, nobody knows how this will go.
Johnson recently spoke about becoming an NFL play caller and his background calling plays and how he goes about the job.
“To me it's part art, part science,” he said. “I think the best guys that I've been around have that feel.
“A lot of it is done during the week, but the biggest thing is being ready to adjust and understanding what the potential problems are. So understanding your strengths, understanding your stresses in each different call and how defenses can try to attack you. You've got to have your counterpunches ready to go.”
A lot has been made of Johnson’s relationship with Jalen Hurts and how they’ve known each other since Hurts’ dad coached Johnson in high school. And that’s a fun story that’s been written a thousand times.
But there’s something to be said for an offensive coordinator having such a deep understanding of his quarterback’s game, what he likes, what he doesn’t like, what he’s good at in certain situations and where he might not be so comfortable.
These guys have been talking football with each other all their lives, and now Johnson is in a position to put that knowledge to use.
“Just being able to see the game through the eyes of the quarterback is something that's really, really important,” Johnson said. “Because I think if you can get the quarterback to play consistently and get the quarterback to play well, your offense has a chance to really excel and has a chance to really shine.”
Johnson is big on collaborating with his players on what he’s doing and what he’s thinking because he doesn’t want to start calling plays they don’t want to run or they don’t think they’re good at.
“For me, it's all about communication,” he said. “One of the main reasons that they can execute at a high level is if they have confidence in what we're doing. I think we just have to get to that point where everybody is on the same page, and (Hurts) is calling it as I'm calling it, and we're seeing it exactly the same.”
The Eagles’ offense averaged 28.1 points per game last year, 2nd-most in the NFL behind the Chiefs and their highest since the 1949 NFL Championship season.
Last year was remarkable, but this offense is loaded across the board, and Johnson has elite receivers, one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, a Super Bowl quarterback, a top-5 tight end and a jammed running back room to work with.
It wouldn’t be surprising if this is the greatest Eagles offense ever.
“I think as you grow - this is my 14th year now in coaching - the more you do it, the more you learn,” he said. “I think you have to continually try to have that growth mindset of trying to find ways to do things a little bit better than you did the day before.”
The Eagles open the 2023 preseason Saturday night against the Ravens in Baltimore, and although the first offense will either play very little or not at all, it will be our first chance to see Johnson calling plays and putting Sirianni’s offense to work.
Johnson said he’ll be calling plays from the field as opposed to the press box Saturday and presumably for the rest of the season.
“I've done it both ways,” he said. “And I don't know that one way is necessarily better than the other, but I think just for having the ability to communicate face-to-face with guys in that environment, I think (being on the field) provides a little bit of added impact.”