Earlier this season, Eagles rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside had an expanded role and it didn’t go so well.
After Alshon Jeffery hurt his calf early in Week 2, Arcega-Whiteside played 75 snaps in that game and started and played 53 snaps in Week 3. All he had to show for it: two catches for 14 yards. And the Eagles lost both games.
That’s been his only offensive production all season.
But the Eagles might need Arceaga-Whiteside to play a big role again this weekend. Jeffery has been ruled out for Sunday with an ankle injury.
Where is Arcega-Whiteside now, compared to where he was a couple months ago?
“Definitely a lot further,” he said. “Because now, knowing all the other positions, helps me a lot knowing what everybody else is going to do and how I need to treat my job, how I need to do my job. And just reps, getting reps at practice and games here and there. It’s slowed down the game tremendously and just being out there and having fun.”
Arcega-Whiteside, 22, admitted the first half of his rookie season was “kind of a transition.” While he spent the first quarter of the season learning the Eagles’ X receiver position (where Jeffery plays), he’s been cross-training since then, learning the other two spots. That hasn’t really resulted in much more playing time, but he feels it’s given him a better understanding of the offense as a whole.
Against the Bears, Arcega-Whiteside played 14 snaps, his most since the Lions game. But he hasn’t had a catch since Week 3.
“He’s put in a good week's work,” head coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “He's always done that. He's always practiced well, but he's been behind Alshon. If his load increases this week, we expect him to go in and play well.
“That's why we drafted him and that's why he's here.”
Earlier in the year, he admitted it was hard to look around the league and see many of his fellow rookie receivers making immediate impacts. While he tries not to compare himself to those guys, players like D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and Diontae Johnson were all drafted after him and have produced more.
Has it been tough being patient?
“It is tough, but at the same time, I could do one of two things,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I could put my head down and say, ‘Man, I’m not playing, I must not be good enough, I must not be this, I must not be that.’ Or I can take every day and learn and do the best that I can every day, learn, take reps, do whatever these guys are asking me to do, so that when I do step in, I’ll be ready.
“It was hard at first, but once I realized I had to make the most of my time, then I didn’t even think about it no more.”
Without Jeffery and with DeSean Jackson on IR, the Eagles are down to Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Jordan Matthews and Arcega-Whiteside at receiver. With how much attention the Patriots are likely to give Zach Ertz, there should be opportunities for one of those players to have a big game.
It would be a good time for their second-round pick to show up.
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