Eagles Insider

How Hightower learned to fight back

Eagles Insider

Soft.

That's one word no football player wants to hear. But it was hard not to use it after John Hightower’s NFL debut.

And it’s understandable that a rookie 5th-round pick who hasn’t had the benefit of preseason games would seem tentative and a little overmatched in the first game of his career.

Hightower was passive on a third-quarter pass from Carson Wentz that wound up getting intercepted by Washington’s corner Jimmy Moreland, he let himself get pushed around by safety Kamren Curl on his only catch of the day, which went for minus-two yards. He just seemed hesitant throughout the game.

Fortunately, the Eagles finally have a wide receivers coach who can diagnose a problem and attack it.

“When we played Washington, I thought he played a little timid and I told him that,” Aaron Moorehead said Tuesday. “I said, ‘If you want DBs to be pushing and shoving you all year long, then go out and play timid, and they’re going to treat you like that.’”

It was a message Hightower had to hear.

Hightower has always had tremendous speed, and in college, that’s often all you need. 

But in the NFL? Cornerbacks will eat you alive if you’re tentative or hesitant.

“If you’re a rookie receiver, I don’t care if you’re a first round pick or an undrafted guy, DBs are going to go after you,” Moorehead said. “That’s part of the NFL, and I just let him know, and he accepted the challenge.”

 

Moorehead spent five years playing alongside Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis.

He knows what it takes. 

And when he saw a young kid not battling the way he should have, he didn’t wait to set him straight.

“You can be quiet as you want off the field, when you step on the field, your game better be loud,” Moorehead said. “That’s what NFL football is about.”

The message clearly got through.

“John is a guy, he’s not the biggest guy in the world, he’s 190 pounds or whatever,” Moorehead said. “And we played L.A. in the second game and the first play of the game he was in, he and (Jalen) Ramsey got into it, and I said ‘There it is. His competitive juices are coming out of him.’ He basically went out there and said, ‘I’m not going to let you push me around,’ and he’s done it every game.”

Hightower started getting more playing time and caught six passes for 59 yards in the next three games, including a big 4th-and-4 conversion that led to the game-winning touchdown vs. the 49ers.

And Hightower definitely took Moorehead’s advice to heart because on the first play of the Steelers game, he got into a little altercation with Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson, a six-year veteran.

Both were called for unnecessary roughness penalties that offset, and Moorehead realized Hightower was maybe going too far with his new-found aggressiveness.

“We had to pull him back a little bit after he got the penalty out in Pittsburgh,” he said.

We’ve seen Hightower mix it up with cornerbacks a few times since but without any more flags.

It's just as encouraging to see that feistiness as  the big plays.

And now the production is there, too. He caught a 50-yarder against the Ravens and a huge 59-yarder on the first 4th-quarter drive of the Eagles’ comeback win over the Giants Thursday night, becoming the first Eagles’ rookie in 76 years with a 50-yard catch in back-to-back weeks.

He's playing now like he belongs.

“John is a guy that’s continually gotten better,” Moorehead said. “You put the tape on from Game 1 and you put the tape on from this week, it’s a whole different player. That’s what rookie receivers do. … John is just constantly kind of learning little details within his game, and I think that the results are starting to come out for him, and we’ve just got to make sure it’s consistent and make sure that he’s doing the little things every week to ensure that it keeps getting that way.”   Isn’t coaching a great thing?