Gardner Minshew will cap an emotional week by starting at quarterback for the Eagles in place of the injured Jalen Hurts against the Cowboys on Christmas Eve.
What better way to honor Mike Leach than balling out on Saturday?
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni announced on Thursday morning that Hurts (sprained right shoulder) is out for Saturday’s game against the Cowboys, but expressed confidence in Minshew.
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“Gardner will be our guy and Gardner will be ready,” Sirianni said confidently.
Just a few days before, Minshew was excused from the Eagles’ walkthrough on Tuesday as he was down in Mississippi to deliver a eulogy at Leach’s funeral. Leach coached Minshew at Washington State and it was fitting that Minshew was able to speak some words about his late mentor.
“It meant a lot,” Minshew said. “Coach Leach has done a lot for my life. I just wanted to honor him and thank his family for everything they’ve done for me.”
It also seems fitting that Minshew, 26, will be able to honor his late coach by playing in a huge game on Saturday. Even without Hurts, the Eagles have a chance to clinch the division and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win over the rival Cowboys.
“I think it’s awesome going back to Texas, [Leach’s] old stomping grounds, being able to compete there in the wake of his passing,” Minshew said. “Every time I step out there, it’s Mike Leach’s legacy. The impact he’s had on me, I think I’ll always carry that with me.”
Sirianni, always big on connection, said it was important for Minshew to be there to honor his former coach.
But because Minshew missed that walkthrough in a short week, he’s had to work to catch up a little bit. The Eagles used Zoom and FaceTime to keep in contact with Minshew while he was in Mississippi. But he has now had two full days of practice, getting reps with the first team and feels ready to go.
“It’s easy to get up to speed when you’re around great players,” Minshew said.
This season, Minshew has played just a handful of snaps in mop up duties late in blowouts. But he does have significant NFL experience with 22 starts and a 41-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his career.
Last season, the Eagles called on Minshew to face the Jets after Hurts injured his ankle and Minshew delivered. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Eagles’ 33-18 win.
The Eagles, of course, won’t be facing the 202 1Jets’ defense on Saturday; the Cowboys present a bigger challenge. But the Eagles are confident in Minshew’s ability to get the job done.
And, remember, it’s not all on him.
The Eagles still have one of the best offensive lines in football and boast a stable of talented skill players like Miles Sanders, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert and more.
“We got a lot of great dudes on this team,” Minshew said. “They’ve really done a good job of making me feel comfortable and getting me up to speed. The coaches have done nothing but show confidence in me. My job is just to go do what I can and help the team win.”
The Eagles’ top receiver this year is Brown, who was named to his second Pro Bowl on Wednesday night. This season, Brown has 74 catches for 1,201 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brown and Minshew haven’t gotten a ton of time together this season before this week, but they’ll probably be OK.
Minshew explained why in the simplest terms.
“He’s really good,” Minshew said. “So it’s nice. He gets open, he catches the ball. When you got those two things going for you, it’s quarterback friendly.”
The Eagles could have probably traded Minshew this past offseason or before the trade deadline, but they elected to hang on to him. The franchise values the backup quarterback position and games like the one on deck Saturday are the exact reason why.
For Minshew, this is a chance to prove himself again leading into free agency this offseason. It’s an audition of sorts. He could earn a job to compete for a starting gig. And if the Eagles win on Saturday and lock up the No. 1 seed, it would probably give him more playing time down the stretch if the Eagles elect to rest Hurts.
After an emotional week, Minshew would love nothing more than to win on Saturday in North Texas. But he’s just focused on the task at hand and not letting those emotions overwhelm him.
“I think you just go play the game,” he said. “There’s a job to do every play. Try to reset before every play, do that job and then stack those together.”
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