The crucial periods in a wide receiver’s development are between Year 1 and Year 2, and then between Year 2 and Year 3, Aaron Moorehead said Tuesday.
“Those are always the biggest jumps, in my mind … from my group, basically, [every returnee is] going from one of those two places,” the Eagles wideouts coach said.
Moorehead’s oldest, most experienced pupil is third-year receiver Greg Ward, who turns 26 on July 12. His top talent presumably is first-round rookie Devonta Smith, drafted 10th overall this spring. So Moorehead has a lot of teaching to do.
Moorehead is working for a new head coach, Nick Sirianni, an ex-wide receivers coach whose former players extol his teaching abilities. Sirianni is likely to evaluate Moorehead’s 2021 efforts primarily on that basis. Moorehead, hired last year, and longtime offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland are the only position coaches Sirianni retained from Doug Pederson’s staff.
“It was really stressful, considering I moved into my house July 15 last year,” Moorehead said. “To think that all of a sudden in mid-January we might have to put this thing on the market was a little nerve-wracking for my family … my kids, they hadn’t even met the kids in their school yet, because they were all virtual.”
Moorehead, though, is a former Indianapolis receiver who still has connections there. He got a summer coaching internship with the Colts a few years back, when Sirianni was offensive coordinator. Sirianni’s Eagles passing game coordinator, Kevin Patullo, was on the Texas A&M staff with Moorehead in 2017.
“I had a little familiarity with those guys. … I was obviously fortunate, really happy and excited [to stay],” Moorehead said.
It had to be hard for Sirianni to evaluate Moorehead on the basis of last season. In 2020, four-week flash Travis Fulgham was the only Eagles wide receiver whose Pro Football Focus receiving grade fell within the 70-84 “starter” range. Fulgham’s grade was 70.4. Twenty-seven of Fulgham’s 38 catches and 378 of his 539 receiving yards came in a four-game midseason span. He played in 13 games and caught two or fewer passes in nine of them.
Moorehead said Fulgham needed to adjust to defenses focusing on him, and added that Fulgham “got nicked up a little bit … he had to play through it.”
PFF recently ranked the Eagles’ receiving group 30th overall going into the 2021 season. Dramatic improvement definitely is needed this year, and Moorehead clearly expects it.
“You do expect their mental capacity and their physical capacity to grow,” he said. “So far, it’s been really good.”
Moorehead has an early priority for his group, which hasn’t practiced seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 yet, and won’t until training camp, now that organized team activities have concluded.
“We gotta have energy,” he said. “This room, it can’t be the old, grumpy – you know, the O-line guys are older and they’re going to be grumpy and walking around here – we’ve got to be the young energy of the offensive room.
“We’re walking around [with] smiles, it’s juice all day. The guys, they should have young, fresh legs, and they should be running around all day. We got guys that can run, guys that can catch … just the consistency, day-in and day-out, with young players that you’ve gotta just continue to preach.”
Struggling high-profile draftees Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will affect how Moorehead is perceived by fans, and maybe by Sirianni. Reagor is the 2020 first-round pick who went just before Justin Jefferson, the Vikings receiver who would set an NFL rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards. Jefferson was selected for the Pro Bowl. Reagor battled injuries and the sharp decline of Carson Wentz, catching 31 passes for 396 yards in 11 games.
Arcega-Whiteside is the 2019 second-rounder who in two seasons has amassed only 14 catches for 254 yards. He might be one more blah training camp away from exiting as one of the team’s all-time draft busts.
Not surprisingly, given that he has to coach them, Moorehead sees an abundance of hope.
Last year, Moorehead spoke of Reagor putting pressure on himself. Reagor publicly bristled at comparisons with Jefferson.
“I think he’s calmer. He’s just letting his play speak for itself,” Moorehead said. “He’s always been a good worker. He’s got a lot of talent, we know that.”
Moorehead said he felt it was important for Reagor to realize “you don’t have to listen to anyone else but the people in this building, and in your family structure at home. And let’s go play ball. He’s been very diligent about that. I think it’s shown in just his preparation … just the understanding of the offense and understanding of receiver placement are so much better. … The questions he’s asking are different, and that’s good.”
Arcega-Whiteside “caught some bad luck last year,” Moorehead said. (This is where the reader should feel free to observe, “at least he caught something.”)
“He just caught the injury bug. It felt like every time he was doing good, he’d get dinged up. Came back, got dinged up again, and then all of a sudden you look and the season’s over,” Moorehead said.
Moorehead added that Arcega-Whiteside is “in a great place right now. … He had a good three weeks here with us.”
One thing Reagor and Arcega-Whiteside should have going for them this season is the presence of Smith, who seems equipped to shield them from the spotlight by drawing it to himself.
Moorehead said he visited Smith’s hometown of Amite, La., when Moorehead was trying to recruit Smith for Texas A&M.
“You knew what he was built with, then. You see a guy catch the game-winning catch in the national championship game as a true freshman, it tells you all need to know,” he said. “Excited to see what these next few months hold for him.”