This past offseason may be one that goes down as one of the most important in recent memory for the Philadelphia Eagles. Acquiring a franchise quarterback is one thing, but building a team around him is a different task entirely. The Birds’ knew there was work to be done. A strong draft was supported by a veteran infusion on both sides of the ball, but arguably their biggest acquisition of the offseason has fallen swiftly under the radar ever since Training Camp.
2016 was another disappointing campaign for the wide receivers. Headlined by Jordan Matthews who received for 804 yards last year, the rest of the corps combined for just over 1,000 yards. Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, and Paul Turner made up the other names who caught passes from the team’s shiny new rookie quarterback, while the likes of Rasheed Bailey, Marcus Johnson and David Watford were among those who signed futures contracts after the season ended.
It was always going to be a tall order to transform a unit plagued with issues into a well oiled machine. You could have as many extra Chess pieces as you like, but if you don’t know how to play the game or use them to your advantage, that added edge will only get you so far. The Eagles weren’t blind. They parted ways with wide receivers coach Greg Lewis and brought in a man who has had nothing but success in his short career; Mike Groh.
Prior to his lone season in LA, where Kenny Britt amassed 1,000 yards in a single season for the first time in his career, Groh spent time with the Chicago Bears and New York Jets. Working with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Groh rapidly grew a reputation as one of the best in his profession. It didn’t take long for his handprints to become visible either. Upon his arrival, the Eagles wideouts were pushed through their paces as OTA’s began. New drills were accompanied by an extremely vocal style of leadership that caught some by surprise. This was more than just a change in coaching, it was a change in culture. For a culture to truly transition, you have to go out with the old…and in with the new. Dorial Green-Beckham was the first domino to fall after a shoddy offseason under Groh.
— Matt Lombardo (@MattLombardoNFL) May 23, 2017
Whether it was coaching the likes of Amari Cooper at Alabama or Brandon Marshall in the NFL, Groh always seemed to bring the best out of his players…and this year has been no exception. Through five games this season, the Eagles wide receivers already totaled 754 yards and six touchdowns. Against the Panthers, the Birds added another three scores along with over 200 more receiving yards. That level of production has almost been unheard of in recent years. What makes this even more staggering is that the Eagles traded one of their blue-chip wideouts on the cusp of the regular season; Jordan Matthews.
A leader in the locker room when the rest of the position needed one. A veteran presence for a group of guys who had minimal experience in the league, and a reliable pair of hands for Carson Wentz, Matthews was more than just a slot receiver. The Eagles quarterback had even given Matthews one of his Dog’s puppies. The bond built between the two went far beyond Football…and losing a presence like that right before the start of the season was bound to suck some of the swagger out of the locker room…at least it would had there not been a strong receivers coach to keep them focused.
“I think that room is very close.” Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said after the shock trade. “I think they have been very close. I think Jordan was definitely a leader in that room, but I think that he wasn’t the only leader. So it’s a good group. Coach Groh [Eagles wide receivers coach Mike Groh], his presence and leadership is felt in that group as well.”
With the heart of the NFL season now underway, Groh’s role is key in the offensive success of the Eagles in more ways than one. Whether it’s the stunning resurgence of Nelson Agholor, who now has three touchdowns and more receiving yards than Alshon Jeffery this season, or even the game-planning itself, the presence of one of the league’s finest up and coming young coaches can’t be overlooked.
“I’m gathering information in between series, and then from up top.” Reich said as he described what goes into balancing the offense earlier in the season. “And then I’ll talk to Stout [Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] on the sideline as far as the run game, hear what he’s talking to his guys about with the offensive line. I’ll talk to [Wide receivers coach] Mike Groh in the pass game, what are the receivers saying? Is there one corner that we think we can — are we feeling anything down low, trying to get a hands-on approach.”
As far as the players, there’s a sense of confidence around the building. Torrey Smith’s home-run hit celebration after scoring his first touchdown in midnight green injected an ounce of fun into the Eagles that had long been lost. Nelson Agholor’s homage to DeSean Jackson showed a receiver very different to the one who competed and struggled during his first two seasons. After overcoming his mental hurdles, Agholor has answered the call for a starting slot receiver and is beginning to live up to the potential he always had…and that all starts behind the scenes.
“I’m having a whole lot of fun right now. I work my butt off and I want to continue to work my butt off because I enjoy this.” Agholor explained after his big game against Arizona. “I really enjoy the game of football and enjoy the process of getting better. I want to go out there and have fun with my teammates.”
For the first time in a long time, the Eagles have a receiving corps that’s producing and ticking every box. A number one wideout who can make tough catches to win games? Check. A dominant slot receiver with rapid footwork and a newly inherited swagger? Check. A WR2 who can take the top off a Defense and expand the Offense for Wentz? Check.
There’s no more cloud lingering over this Eagles wide receiving corps. No more doubts. The Sun is shining through and the Birds are singing like never before. The wide receivers on this team are playing with speed, swagger and sustenance…and that’s all thanks to a new wide receivers coach who like he has at every stop of his NFL career, has brought the best out of his wideouts once again.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Cal Sport Media via AP Images