Rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's Role Likely to Increase
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside knew he was about to take a wallop from Seattle safety Bradley McDougald. Sure enough, the Eagles receiver did, and the rookie went flying out of bounds at the 2-yard line, but he bounced up with the football in his hands.
The play covered 30 yards and led to the Eagles’ only touchdown last week, a two-yard throw to tight end Zach Ertz. The TD, though, didn’t come until 20 seconds remained in a 17-9 loss.
Still, it was a glimmer of hope that Arcega-Whiteside might be on the right track after 10 mostly frustrating weeks to start his NFL career.
“Those are tough knowing that you’re going to get smacked as soon as you touch the ball, but it’s going to feel a lot better if you have the ball in your hands at the end of the play,” said Arcega-Whiteside on Wednesday. “We can build off of that; how can we use that to my advantage, how can I use that to our advantage and just keep going more and more and building off of it.”
Head coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday that Arcega-Whiteside is “the guy now,” meaning that he will line up opposite Alshon Jeffery, if Jeffery can play Sunday when the Eagles meet the Miami Dolphins, or line up in Jeffery’s spot if Jeffery cannot play. Jeffery (ankle) was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice after having missed two straight games coming out the bye week.
Pederson added that Greg Ward, who caught his first six career passes in the NFL, could also have a role, even when Nelson Agholor returns. Agholor (knee) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday after missing last week’s game against the Seahawks.
“I think so,” said Pederson about Ward. “I think he's earned it. He's deserved it by the way he's practiced. So, yeah, he'll have a role.”
The Eagles are comfortable enough letting Arcega-Whiteside play more that they released Jordan Matthews earlier in the week after Matthews had played just two games since being brought back to the team for a third time.
“We kept him at X (receiver spot), he's learned Z, he can play Z,” said Pederson. “Mack (Hollins) obviously he can play all three. But J.J.'s kind of the guy now. He's the one that's in that position and he's done some nice things these last couple of games. He's gaining a little more confidence in that.”
Pederson believes Arcega-Whiteside is ready for a bigger role based on what he’s seen during practice with how hard he is working and how he is beginning to take the coaching from the classroom to the practice field.
“Some of the things he did in the game last week, even though the ball necessarily maybe didn't go his direction, just how he was able to run routes and some of the things that he did that way, blocking, things of that nature,” said Pederson. “And look, it's where we are in our season and these guys obviously were -drafted for a reason and now we have to get them to play and play well.”
Arcega-Whiteside has just five catches for 86 yards (17.2 yards per catch) since being drafted in the second round out of Stanford.
“We just have to make plays,” said Arcega-Whiteside. “Nothing is going to be perfect, that’s for sure, but that’s what we strive to do is make it as perfect as possible. Along the way there’s going to be some bumps, but we can get there.
“A lot of it is trial and error. You’re going to make mistakes out there but if out learn from those mistakes you do it again and it’s like boom, nobody’s going to think twice about it.”