Doug Pederson spent 10 years as a backup quarterback in the NFL. He started just 17 games and threw only 12 career touchdown passes.
But he firmly believes those 10 years as a player have been instrumental in his early success as an NFL head coach with the Eagles; success that has included a Super Bowl title and three postseason appearances in four years.
He feels his background as an NFL player gives him street cred in the locker room that helps him get the players to buy what he’s selling, particularly in trying times like the last two Decembers when the Eagles were on the verge of missing the playoffs but responded to Pederson down the stretch and rallied.
Pederson’s feelings on the value of NFL playing experience for a coach extend to his staff. As the Eagles race to get ready for their season opener against Washington in two weeks in this most unusual COVID spring/summer of no OTAs, no preseason games, and just 14 padded practices, they are being tutored by no fewer than 11 coaches with NFL playing experience, totaling 113 years.
Five of Pederson’s nine head position coaches – Duce Staley (running backs), Aaron Moorehead (wide receivers), Justin Peelle (tight ends), Marquand Manuel (defensive backs), and Tim Hauck (safeties) -- are ex-NFL players with 46 years of combined playing experience.
Assistant tight ends coach Mike Bartrum played in the league for 11 years, seven of them with the Eagles. Four other former Eagles – Darren Sproles, Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant – also have been working with the players during training camp. Sproles, Celek, and Barwin all are recent additions to the team’s front office. Avant is a summer coaching intern.
“I’ve been blessed to have full-time staff members that have played at this level,” Pederson said. “There’s something to say for guys that have played this game because they can lean on their experiences as a player, which can sort of help teach the younger players how it is to be a pro.
“And then having these other guys like Connor and Darren and Brent and Jason, they can really embrace the younger players and help teach them not only what it means to be a pro, but more importantly, what it means to be a Philadelphia Eagle and represent our city and our fans. It’s so important for me to have these guys around our players.”
Sproles, who retired last year after an outstanding 14-year playing career, has been particularly valuable this summer, helping Staley with a young running back group that is expected to have an increased role in the Eagles’ passing game this season.
Sproles, who was one of the top return men in NFL history, also has been a huge help to special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, tutoring rookies Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, and Adrian Killins on returns.
“Having Darren here has been great,” Fipp said. “You guys all know my relationship with him. I love him. He was an unbelievable player and he’s an unbelievable resource for this whole organization. I mean, the guy played back there for a long, long time. He’s got a lot of experience.
“Obviously, him talking to Jalen, it means a lot more than me talking to him because of all of his experience and all that stuff. I’m sure Jalen has a healthy amount of respect for what the guy has accomplished in this league.”
Staley played 10 years in the league. Had three 1,000-yard seasons with the Eagles. He’s one of the league’s top running backs coaches. But his last season as a player was 2006. Sproles has brought a younger, cool-uncle perspective to the running backs room.
“It’s a big help when the younger guys see him in the room,” Staley said. “Corey [Clement], Miles [Sanders], and Boston [Scott], they were able to suit up with Darren and go to war with him.
“Now, seeing him on the other side and being able to come back and coach says a couple of things. It says he cares about them, cares about their development. Also, him being out there taking the time away from his family shows how dedicated he is to helping them.”
Staley and Peelle have been position coaches with the Eagles since 2013. Pederson hired Hauck when he replaced Chip Kelly as head coach in 2016.
He added Moorehead and Manuel in the offseason. Moorehead played five years in the league, all with the Indianapolis Colts. He joined the Eagles after spending the last two years as the wide receivers coach at Vanderbilt.
Manuel played for six teams over eight years. He was the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator in 2017-18.
Moorehead is Pederson’s fifth wide receivers coach in five years. The previous two – Gunter Brewer and Carson Walch – were fired after just one season. Eagles wideouts had just 11 touchdown catches last season under Walch, and 13 the year before under Brewer.
The Eagles selected three young wide receivers in the draft this spring, including Reagor in the first round. Pederson is counting on Moorehead getting a lot more production from the unit than Brewer and Walch did.
“Walking into the room with NFL experience as a player, you’re going to get respect when you walk into the room,” Moorehead said. “It’s your job as a coach to demand and teach. That’s what I always believe in.”
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had his ups and downs last season as a second-round rookie, said he likes having a position coach with NFL playing experience.
“He’s been in our position,” he said. “He’s been a guy who’s been on some successful teams [he won a Super Bowl with the Colts]. He’s had ups and downs in his career, so he can relate to us a lot.
“When you make a mistake, he’s going to show you how to do it better. Sometimes we might run a route and we don’t get to exactly where we’re supposed to be, or something the defense does changes us.
“He understands why we do what we do. If it was the right thing to do, he’ll let us know. If it’s not, he’ll correct us. But he’s been in our shoes. He knows what we’re going through, on and off the field. He understands and is able to relate to us.”
Moorehead, who is 6-3, admitted that it’s easier for him to relate and work with bigger receivers like 6-2 Arcega-Whiteside and 6-3 Alshon Jeffery than a small speed guy like DeSean Jackson.
“It’s obviously more natural for me to coach the Alshons and the J.J.s,” he said. “I understand the moves they’re making. I understand where their body is going.
“I’ve had to teach myself to coach guys like DeSean over the years because it’s not as natural to me. DeSean does things naturally that I could never physically do.