Just a few months ago, Eagles second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside had just one speed: Frenetic.
It was up to 17-year NFL veteran Ricky Proehl to teach him how to slow down with purpose, how to get smoother.
“It’s like a race car,” Proehl said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. “They don’t come in full throttle, pedal to the floor, on a turn. They downshift in and then accelerate out. That’s what you want to do in your routes and change of direction.”
There’s an art to this.
Proehl, 51, said when he first met Arcega-Whiteside in January, the soon-to-be draft pick, on a scale of 1-10, had his speed dial turned up to an 11. Proehl needed him to dial it back some, to an 8 or 9, to be a little smoother as he prepared for pre-draft testing.
Sure, this adjustment helped Arcega-Whiteside in his pre-draft testing drills, but it’s also a skill that’s helpful in game action. It should aid him in getting in and out of cuts with more efficiency.
Think about this example from Proehl: If you’re running a “come-backer” and a corner is with you, you wouldn’t run faster than him if your job is to get back inside of him. In that case, it’s all about patience. Arcega-Whiteside had a pretty good sense of that in game action, but he especially needed to pump the brakes in drills on air (without a defense).
“He taught me how to slow things down, how to make things easier on myself, coming in and out of breaks was the biggest thing,” Arcega-Whiteside said last week. “He thought that I was just going too fast, just trying to run too hard, so he slowed it down for me, just being smooth, in and out of cuts and all that good stuff.”
Proehl, who played for six franchises during his 17-year career as an NFL receiver, is the owner of Proehlific Park training in Greensboro, North Carolina. During the pre-draft process, the longtime NFL vet trains receivers and tight ends from Rep1 Sports agency. That’s how he and Arcega-Whiteside met. They’ve since become close.
A few years ago, Proehl had another student with similar problems — a prospect out of Ohio State named Michael Thomas. Like Arcega-Whiteside, Thomas (another second-round pick) looked stiff in his workouts but devoted himself to making adjustments. Thomas just finished his second straight Pro Bowl season and had a league-high 125 catches in 2018.
As far as problems go, having a mentee who is a little too gung-ho is a pretty fixable one.
“I think it’s easier to make that adjustment,” Proehl said. “You’d rather have kids with that problem than kids you gotta try to tell them every five minutes to turn it up, ‘Hey have some sense of urgency!’ JJ is not like that.”
No, he’s not like that at all. Arcega-Whiteside is a hard worker and extremely coachable, according to Proehl. He wants to get better. That’s why Arcega-Whiteside has spent most of the last two weeks at Proehl’s facility in North Carolina as he awaits his first practices as an Eagle. Those will happen this weekend at rookie minicamp.
Arcega-Whiteside was the 57th pick in the draft last month, but Proehl hasn’t sensed much of a change in him since hearing his name called. If anything, the rookie has amped up his training even more.
“Some guys shut it down; he’s the opposite,” Proehl said. “He has more to prove, ‘I have to turn it up now, they’re counting on me.’ That’s his whole mentality.”
Arcega-Whiteside might want to turn it up at rookie camp, but he’ll also know when he needs to turn it down. He can thank Proehl for teaching him how.
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