It seems like every day reporters have been allowed to watch Eagles practice this spring, rookie receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside makes one of his calling-card catches. You know, the ones that made him a second-round pick, where he uses his elite body control and basketball background to leap over helpless cornerbacks, pluck a football out of midair and come down in the end zone for a touchdown.
“Y’all guys came on good days,” said Arcega-Whiteside, humbly.
But it’s probably more than just dumb luck that’s had us witness some of his signature plays during OTAs. It probably has something to do with the fact that he might be pretty damn good and these are just the kinds of plays he makes more than some other players. If that’s the case — and it’s still early — it looks like the Eagles got a player with the 57th pick.
On Wednesday, the play Arcega-Whiteside made came in the end zone nearest Broad Street. It was a perfect pass from Nate Sudfeld and poor Jeremiah McKinnon didn’t have much of a chance in coverage. Arcega-Whiteside caught it over the corner, tapped both big toes in bounds and the referee in that corner signaled it was a touchdown. There was no doubt about it.
“He’s a young, hungry kid,” Sudfeld said. “He’s been awesome. He high-points the ball really well, has great feel, great hands. He’s a great red zone threat but he’s great in the open field too. Having him and some of these young players have been awesome. He’s doing a great job.”
Arcega-Whiteside — again humble — said there’s not much of a secret to it either: “You just go up and get the ball.”
Yeah, sure, that’s all it is.
“At the end of the day, when it’s the red zone, you just have to go get it,” he continued. “There’s no other way to put it.”
The backstory here isn’t that Arcega-Whiteside is making these catches in practice; really, it’s all the work that goes into making them look so effortless. All the time behind the scenes he’s spent catching balls from Carson Wentz and Sudfeld, learning how footballs come out of their hands and allowing them to learn to trust him in 50-50 situations. That doesn’t happen overnight.
Arcega-Whiteside said after every practice he gets some extra time with the quarterbacks, catching fades and back shoulder passes. Those are the situations where he thrives but can’t without building a rapport with the guys throwing the ball.
“We definitely try to put the work in and perfect it,” he said.
One change from playing at Stanford to now playing with the Eagles is that in college, Arcega-Whiteside ran a lot of “post-up routes” that don’t have a place in the Eagles’ playbook. He explained it’s actually easier for him to make these plays now without having to run a route and lean his body weight on a DB first. Now, he just goes up and gets the ball.
A important aspect to Wentz’s being healthy this spring is that he’s able to work with his receivers, specifically his new receivers like DeSean Jackson and Arcega-Whiteside. On Wednesday, Arcega-Whiteside said it was difficult to adjust to a new quarterback at first, but repetition has definitely helped. He’s much further along than he was on draft day a couple months ago.
The biggest area in which he wants to continue to improve is his understanding of the playbook. He wants to be able to shift his thinking on each particular play from, “What (responsibility) do I have?” to “How do I win this route?”
If he keeps improving there, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of his signature catches.
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