Throughout the last two weeks, whenever I would report a great catch from J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, I’d be bombarded with different variations of the same comment from Eagles fans.
“Practice!? Let’s see him do it in a game!”
It looks like he’s going to get his opportunity. Arcega-Whiteside has said he’s a completely different player going into Year 2. With Jalen Reagor’s injury, it’s time for JJAW to prove it.
Reagor, the talented 1st-round pick, suffered a tear in his shoulder during Sunday’s practice at the Linc and is expected to miss at least the beginning of the Eagles’ season. Without Reagor and since Alshon Jeffery still coming back from a Lisfranc injury, guess who is likely the new X receiver.
Yup, with less than two weeks before the opener, Arcega-Whiteside should start in Washington on Sept. 13:
X receiver: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
Z receiver: DeSean Jackson
Slot receiver: Greg Ward Jr.
While you could make a case for starting 5th-round pick John Hightower at the X after his impressive first training camp, the Eagles should and probably will go with Arcega-Whiteside. Not only does he have a year of experience on Hightower but he had an equally impressive training camp.
That’s the thing. I understand why fans viewed the reports about Arcega-Whiteside’s training camp domination with skepticism, but it doesn’t change the fact that he did those things. In the last two weeks, he was reliable, he caught touchdowns, he showed off his body control. He gave us a glimpse of everything the Eagles thought they were getting when they used a 2nd-round pick on him last year.
Of course, the production last season was awful. Despite ample opportunity, Arcega-Whiteside caught just 10 passes for 169 yard and a touchdown. That, simply put, didn’t cut it and JJAW knows it.
“It wasn’t good enough,” he said earlier this month.
No, it wasn’t.
But you also have to give Arcega-Whiteside credit for how he attacked his first NFL offseason. He got healthy, he slimmed down to get faster and he came back with a completely different mindset.
The most insightful answer JJAW gave in an interview this summer came when I asked him about how and when he learned to tune out the outside noise. He said he listened to it too much as a rookie, but he got back to the basics this summer.
“At that point I kind of just realized, at the end of the day, I'm playing football just because it's fun,” he said. “And obviously I get paid to do it as well, but it makes me a lot happier doing it, because it is fun, and it's what I've done since I was a kid. I don't need to worry about what people say, what people think of me or what, you know, is being said out there, because I'm not doing it for them. I'm doing it for my family and for me because it's fun.”
So he’s healthier, happier, faster, more reliable and he’s definitely more confident.
Arcega-Whiteside missed the very beginning of training camp with a minor injury but everything since then has been positive. He got healthy and started showing out every day in practice. And I’ll be honest, he has been winning me over.
I know, I know. You’re still skeptical. I am too.
But we’ll find out soon enough. It’s time for him to prove it when it counts.