2019 Eagles OTAs

Eagles' JJ Arcega-Whiteside continues to make signature plays look easy

Eagles' JJ Arcega-Whiteside continues to make signature plays look easy

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. 

Those catches. 

“Y’all guys came on good days,” said Arcega-Whiteside, humbly. 

Lucky us. 

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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10 observations from Eagles OTAs: JJ Arcega-Whiteside does it again; practice ends with big pick

10 observations from Eagles OTAs: JJ Arcega-Whiteside does it again; practice ends with big pick

Another beautiful spring day for practice in South Philadelphia.

After today, the Eagles will finish off their OTAs on Thursday in advance of next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp from June 11-13 (Tuesday-Thursday). After that, there’s a long layoff before training camp in late-July, early-August.  

Here are 10 observations from the Eagles’ ninth OTA practice (and the fourth and final OTA practice open to reporters): 

1. The end of Wednesday’s practice was fun. The first-team defense was lined up against the third-team offense with four chances to get in the end zone from the 10-yard line. 

The first play was a near interception by L.J. Fort. He was diving but the ball went right through his hands. It was the third or fourth dropped INT of the day.

“Is everybody going to drop a pick today?” Rasul Douglas yelled. 

The second play was a 6-yard gain on a short pass to Braxton Miller. 

The third pass was underthrown by Clayton Thorson in the end zone and Sidney Jones picked it off. A little redemption for Jones, who dropped an INT about two minutes earlier. It was a bad throw from Thorson, who had a shaky day. But Jones picked this pass off and the defense went crazy. 

2. Rookie wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside did it again today. Another great grab in the end zone. This time, it was a perfectly thrown ball from Nate Sudfeld and JJAW simply went up over cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon to make the grab in the back left corner of the end zone. He even got both feet inside the white line and the official at practice signaled touchdown. The kid just has great body control. 

3. Let’s take care of attendance. Not at practice: DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, Miles Sanders, Malcolm Jenkins, Nigel Bradham, Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox. 

Jalen Mills and Blake Countess were spectators, while Mack Hollins, Ronald Darby and Corey Clement worked on a side field. Hollins ran routes for a while and looked pretty good. Maybe we really will see him at training camp. Darby warmed up with the team but didn’t practice. 

The new player, safety Trae Elston (see story), was practicing. He wears No. 35. 

4. Overall, I’d say the defense won the day. Carson Wentz didn’t have his sharpest practice and there weren’t many balls down the field. But a lot of that is likely because he was without his top three receivers. Without Jeffery, Jackson and Agholor, these receivers filled in: Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Charles Johnson and Shelton Gibson. Aside from that, though, there were also some false starts from the offense. This is the time to wipe out all the sloppiness. 

5. The Eagles used some of their three-safety look on defense during 11-on-11s. Added to the mix was Deiondre’ Hall. He joined Tre Sullivan and Andrew Sendejo. Hall has been making plays in recent practices. Last year, Hall was added in a trade near the start of the season and played just six defensive snaps all season. 

6. Dallas Goedert again made another impressive catch by using his big body. This one he caught in front of a defender near the sideline. I’m already expecting a big year from him.  

7. While everyone else seemed to be dropping picks, Douglas hauled in a terrible duck of a throw from Cody Kessler. Kessler airmailed it and Douglas was basically returning a punt. But he was quickly off to the races the other way. 

8. I haven’t been too impressed with Sudfeld in previous open practices this spring, but I thought he had a good day today, especially in the red zone. He fired in some passes to Richard Rodgers and Will Tye. And he made a nice throw to Marken Michel, who failed to make a tremendous diving catch in the end zone. 

One slightly scary moment came when Sudfeld tripped in his backpedal, but he popped right up and was fine. 

9. We saw Zach Brown in coverage on two plays. One was good, one not so good. Earlier in the practice, he stepped in front of a ball intended for Tye, but couldn’t haul in a pick (it was a theme on Wednesday). Later in the practice, he lined up 1-on-1 outside with soon-to-be training camp darling Boston Scott. Scott was just way too quick. He shook Brown with a couple steps and then made a nice diving catch to pick up a first down. 

10. During 7-on-7s, a far field housed OL vs. DL 1-on-1s. I didn’t catch all of them, but I was impressed by one rep from Jordan Mailata. Just a year and a half into his football career, he held up against a bull rush from Brandon Graham. He’s come so far. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: I’m short. 

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Eagles making changes to try and reduce rash of injuries

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Eagles making changes to try and reduce rash of injuries

Two constants for the Eagles the last two years have been winning and injuries.

The Eagles are 22-10 the last two regular seasons despite losing player after player to injury throughout this stretch.

Every NFL team experiences injuries, but it sure seems like the Eagles in particular the last couple years have been plagued by soft-tissue injuries.

They won a Super Bowl two years ago despite losing so many key players. Last year they went 10-6 and won a playoff game despite the entire secondary — and a few others — ending up in the trainer's room.

Torn ACLs and broken legs are unavoidable. They’re going to happen and no amount of stretching or conditioning is going to change that. 

As long as there's an NFL, they'll happen.

With soft-tissue injuries — tendon, muscle and ligament injuries — that’s not always the case.

They can't be prevented, but they can be reduced.

Only two Eagles — Malcolm Jenkins and Jason Kelce — have started and finished all 36 games the Eagles have played the last two years.

That’s kind of shocking, and the Eagles this past offseason set out to find out why.

Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles’ medical and training staff spent time this offseason researching soft-tissue injuries and trying to find ways to reduce them. 

"With the  data that's out there, it's hard to track,” Pederson said Monday. “I think we're getting more and more kind of caught up with the soft-tissue injuries. We've had extensive history with the ACLs and all that kind of stuff, but now the soft-tissue thing has kind of taken over. So we're collecting more data on it.”

Pederson said he's altered the way the strength and conditioning staff prepares the team before practice, and just watching the team’s pre-practice routine so far, there does appear to be more of an emphasis on core exercises that strengthen the area from the hips to the shoulders.

Pederson said he’s given the strength and conditioning guys more time to work with the players, as well.  

“We focus a little more on the core,” Pederson said. “We're trying to be proactive with soft tissue, with stretching and core exercises. One of the things I did this spring was give our strength and conditioning a little more time to be a little more proactive in some of this so we could be ahead of the curve and really try to focus on eliminating as many as we can. Obviously, they're going to come up, but we're taking steps to be proactive in it.”

Will this new focus on soft-tissue injuries translate into a healthier team in 2019? We’ll see.

The Eagles are 22-10 the last two years despite an extensive list of injuries both years. Just imagine what a healthy Eagles team could do.

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