After months of Mack Hollins and then Jordan Matthews, the Eagles are finally making the change it seemed like everyone wanted. As head coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday, JJ Arcega-Whiteside is “kind of the guy now” at one of the outside receiver positions.
Now that he has the opportunity, the rookie needs to fine-tune a few things.
Especially with Carson Wentz.
“We just gotta make plays,” Arcega-Whiteside said on Wednesday. “Everything ain’t 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. We can get there.”
Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz need to get on the proverbial same page and they need to do it quickly.
In a viral video breakdown, former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky pointed out two routes from Sunday that lacked detail from Arcega-Whiteside.
One of those plays was a key 4th-and-2 in the fourth quarter. It looked like Arcega-Whiteside settled at the top of his route and when Wentz threw it to that spot, the rookie bounced to a different spot. That was the same criticism given by former Eagles receiver Bryce Treggs, too.
“We’re two professionals, we gotta make the play,” Arcega-Whiteside said about the 4th-and-2. “I wouldn’t say it’s one person’s fault. We gotta make the play.”
The 22-year-old receiver detailed some of the process he goes through to work with Wentz to make sure they have an on-field rapport. A lot of it happens on the sideline and in the film room.
Arcega-Whiteside said Wentz is very vocal in those conversations, but they’re conversations, not lectures. Wentz listens to his receivers and everyone gives their input as they figure these things out. The blame isn’t always on the receiver.
“I have to be clearer with what we’re expecting and what we’re seeing and just been more decisive,” Wentz said. “There’s no excuses with that. It can be frustrating this late in the season when you’re having those mistakes and it’s something that we can talk about and talk about in advance so those mistakes don’t happen out on the field.”
While Arcega-Whiteside has played more at certain times this season, he didn’t come into the year as a starter, so he hasn’t gotten as much practice time as the starters. And Wentz has played with a lot of his other receivers for years at this point.
But as much as they talk during the week and as much as they practice together, nothing replaces game reps.
“A lot of it is trial and error,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You’re going to make mistakes out there, but if you learn from those mistakes, then you do it again and it’s like, ‘boom,’ nobody’s even going to think twice about it. The other part is, going in and talking about it on the sideline and in the locker room. Just hashing out all the details.”
The reason the Eagles gave earlier in the season for Arcega-Whiteside’s lack of playing time was that he was the backup at the X receiver position, meaning he was Alshon Jeffery’s backup. But since then, he’s been cross-training and learning all three receiver positions.
He hopes he’s at the point now where he can play without overthinking. That’s the goal for most rookies.
Overall, it’s probably been a little bit of a disappointing season for Arcega-Whiteside; he has just five catches on the season. But he did have a 30-yard catch with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter Sunday. It was a tough grab on an off-schedule play. It’s the Eagles’ only 30-plus yard catch in the month of November.
Arcega-Whiteside hopes that catch can be a springboard of sorts.
“Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “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. Build off of that. How can we use that to our advantage? How can I use that to my advantage. Just keep going more and more and building off of it.”
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