When Aaron Moorehead accepted the job as the Eagles’ wide-receivers coach in February, he knew it came with a short leash.
Moorehead is the Eagles’ fifth wide-receivers coach in the last five years. He takes over a unit that caught just 11 touchdown passes and averaged a puny 6.5 yards per target last season.
There were some extenuating circumstances. Most notably, the team’s top three wideouts – DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor – missed a total of 24 games with injuries. Without Jackson, opposing safeties played up in Carson Wentz’s lap.
But that didn’t prevent head coach Doug Pederson from quickly showing Moorehead’s predecessor, Carson Walch, the door after just one season.
“I can’t speak on anybody else,” said the 39-year-old Moorehead, who played five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. “I don’t know those other coaches’ styles.
“My style is my style. I’m not going to conform my style to ‘this is what this guy needs,’ or ‘that is what that guy did.’ I know how I coach. I know how to get through to people. I know how to motivate people. I try to get the best out of guys. Bring their bottom up. That’s truly what I’m about.”
This is Moorehead’s first NFL coaching gig after 10 years at the college level. But his five seasons playing with Peyton Manning and the Colts from 2003 through 2007 carried a lot of weight with Pederson, who also is a former NFL player.
“Walking into the [position] room with NFL experience as a player, you’re going to get respect,” said Moorehead, who played on the Colts Super Bowl XLI championship team in ’06.
“It’s your job as a coach to demand and teach. That’s what I always believed in. That philosophy doesn’t change.
“It’s been good so far. This group’s been great. We’re excited to get going. We can’t wait to start practicing against the defense and see what the next step is.”
It would seem the Eagles’ wide receivers have nowhere to go but up after last year, when the unit averaged just six first downs and 103 receiving yards per game, both near the bottom of the league.
Jackson, who had 157 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over Washington before suffering an abdominal injury in Week 2 and playing just four more snaps the rest of the season, is back. Though, at 33, another muscle injury never is far away.
Jeffery, 30, still is recovering from a foot injury but is expected to return at some point.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had his ups and downs as a second-round rookie, should have a much-better grasp of the offense in Year 2, even though the COVID pandemic wiped out spring field work and forced the cancellation of the preseason games.
Former practice-squad player Greg Ward emerged as a legitimate slot weapon late in the season, catching 28 passes, 18 for first downs, in the last six regular-season games.
“Greg’s in a great mental place right now,” Moorehead said. “Half the battle sometimes in the NFL is just knowing you can do it and having the quarterback know you can do it.”
And then there are the three speedy wideouts the Eagles drafted, including first-round pick Jalen Reagor.
“This group is coming out with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder because of last year,” Moorehead said. “That’s a good thing.
“Your everyday approach as an NFL player never should change. But people hear what’s being said about them. Guys understand that we have something to prove. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
“I like the group we have. You’ve got some young guys that are going to step up and will have to continue to get better as the year goes on. And you’ve got some veterans that we need to keep healthy and get healthy to help take this group to the next level.”
Besides Jackson’s 157-yard effort in the season-opener, Eagles wideouts had just two other individual 100-yard receiving performances last year. Agholor had 107 receiving yards in the Week 2 loss to the Falcons, and Jeffery had 137 receiving yards in a 37-31 Week 13 loss to Miami. That was the last game he played.
The unit’s numbers took a nosedive in every significant category. Its average receiving yards per game plummeted from 161.2 in 2018 to 102.9 last year. Its yards-per-catch average dropped from 13.7 to 11.3 and its yards-per-target from 9.3 to 6.5. Its catch rate fell from 68.1 to 57.2.
“For the guys that have been here for a few years, having to go through different coaches isn’t easy,” Moorehead said. “But my job is to make the transition seamless. And to be able to say, ‘Look, I can help you here. I can help you there. This is what’s going to help you become a better player.’ That’s my job as a coach.”
Being a new coach in the middle of a pandemic is no cakewalk. With all spring work canceled, Moorehead’s only communication with his players, until the rookies reported two weeks ago, was virtual meetings and phone calls.
“It was tough not being able to be in the building, not being able to be around the other coaches, not being able to be around the players,” he said. “But we adjust and we adapt. That’s what you do as coaches. I’ve enjoyed the last few weeks and finally getting to know these guys in person.”
Moorehead already knew Reagor. He played with Jalen’s father, Montae, in Indianapolis. He also tried to recruit him when he was an assistant at Texas A&M.
“I’ve known Jalen since he was a little kid,” Moorehead said. “I have a different relationship with him, which is a good thing. I’ve always liked him. He’s a humble kid who understands it. But he also has that swag of a big-time receiver.
“He’s 21-years-old. He’s just figuring this thing out. I’m going to be excited to watch him grow throughout this year.”
Moorehead has a saying that he preaches to his receivers: bring your bottom up. It means improve the things you don’t do as well as some others.
“Whether it’s routes, whether it’s blocking, whether it’s something else, bring your bottom up,” he said. “Because your top always is going to keep getting better. That’s what you’re good at. Bringing your bottom up is how you become a really good player; how you go from great to elite.
“That’s what the season’s about. The season’s about continuing to grow and making sure that at the end of the year, you’re a better player than you were at the beginning.”