JJ Arcega-Whiteside

Eagles need to find coaches to lead their biggest weaknesses

Eagles need to find coaches to lead their biggest weaknesses

Coming out of the 2019 season, if you were to rank the Eagles’ positions of need, it would be really difficult at the top.

There’s 1 and 1a — in either order.

The Eagles were already looking at massive overhauls in their secondary and at the wide receiver position this offseason. And now they’ll need to find coaches to lead two position groups that have been as injury-plagued as they have been disappointing over the last two seasons.

These are going to be very important hires for the organization.

This is a fresh start and an opportunity to hire coaches who can help transform two areas of the team that desperately need it.

Or this could make it even harder.

Last week, we found out that the Eagles fired receivers coach Carson Walch along with offensive coordinator Mike Groh. And on Monday, the Detroit Lions hired defensive backs coach Cory Undlin to be their defensive coordinator. So one guy got fired, one got promoted, but both are gone. And now the Eagles need to replace them.

Whomever the Eagles hire for these positions will likely have a very different cast of players than the ones Undlin and Walch had in 2019. Think about all the uncertainty at receiver and in the secondary and how much these positions need to improve.

Secondary

• Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are all set to be free agents. Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas couldn’t get on the field in the playoff game.

• Thanks to injuries, the Eagles used 21 different defensive backs in the last two seasons, including Josh Hawkins, Dexter McDougle and Tre Sullivan.

• In 2019, the Eagles had the NFL’s 19th-best pass defense. Since 2015, when Undlin took over as DBs coach, the Eagles have the 27th-ranked pass defense in NFL.

• In that same timespan, the Eagles have given up 53 pass plays of 40+ yards. Just five teams have given up more.  

•  And the Eagles haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive back since 2003, according to Reuben Frank. That’s the longest drought in the NFL.

• Just take a look at their last decade drafting defensive backs:

2018: Avonte Maddox (4th)
2017: Sidney Jones (2nd)
2017: Rasul Douglas (3rd)
2016: Blake Countess (6th)
2016: Jalen Mills (7th)
2014: Eric Rowe (2nd)
2015: JaCorey Shepherd (6th)
2015: Randall Evans (6th)
2014: Jaylen Watkins (4th)
2014: Ed Reynolds (5th)
2013: Earl Wolff (5th)
2013: Jordan Poyer (7th)
2012: Brandon Boykin (4th)
2011: Jaiquawn Jarrett (2nd)
2011: Cutis Marsh (3rd)
2010: Nate Allen (2nd)
2010: Trevard Lindley (4th)
2010: Kurt Coleman (7th)

Wide receiver

• The Eagles’ next receivers coach will be their sixth in six seasons.

• Alshon Jeffery has a significant injury and significant guaranteed salary. DeSean Jackson is 33 and coming off a season that also ended with an IR trip. And Nelson Agholor is heading toward free agency and everyone pretty much knows he’s gone.

• Thanks to more injuries, the Eagles used 15 receivers in the last two years, including Markus Wheaton, Kamar Aiken, Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis.

• This season, Carson Wentz became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards without a receiver going over 500 yards receiving.

• And the Eagles haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl receiver since DeSean back in 2008.

• Here’s their decade of misery trying to find receivers in the draft:

2019: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (2nd)
2017: Mack Hollins (4th)
2017: Shelton Gibson (4th)
2015: Nelson Agholor (1st)
2014: Jordan Matthews (2nd)
2014: Josh Huff (3rd)
2012: Marvin McNutt (6th)
2010: Riley Cooper (5th)

Based on the history of the Eagles’ inability to find cornerbacks and receivers, maybe there shouldn’t be much hope that the front office is going to go out and find talented players at those two positions. But they’re going to try.

From there, it’ll be up to these new, important hires — whoever they are — to develop talent at two positions that desperately need it.

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J.J. Arcega-Whiteside reflects on tough rookie year: 'Nowhere to go but up'

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside reflects on tough rookie year: 'Nowhere to go but up'

It was bad enough that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside barely made a ripple in his rookie season.

What made it a million times worse is that two guys the Eagles bypassed when they drafted JJAW — the Redskins' Terry McLaurin and the Seahawks' D.K. Metcalf — both killed the Eagles.

McLaurin had the two biggest games against the Eagles – 125 yards in September, 130 yards in December. He’s the first rookie ever with two 125-yard games against the Eagles.

And Metcalf wasn’t far behind. He was only 3-for-35 in the first Seahawks game but 7-for-160 Sunday with a 58-yard touchdown.

McLaurin and Metcalf both had more yards against the Eagles this year than Arcega-Whiteside had against the entire league.

Not good.

On Sunday, while Metcalf was shattering Jeremy Maclin’s NFL postseason record for receiving yards by a rookie, JJAW played just 12 snaps and didn’t have a catch (one reception was negated by a penalty).

Obviously, I didn’t want them to win, but I was glad that he had the game that he did,” Arcega-Whiteside said of Metcalf. “I’m never going to hate on anybody’s success because if anybody knows how hard it is to succeed it’s me, so I’ll never hate on that. But at the same time I wish it wasn’t against us.

The Eagles selected Arcega-Whiteside with the 57th pick in the draft. Metcalf went to the Seahawks at No. 64 and McLaurin to Redskins at No. 76.

While the Eagles’ other second-round pick, Miles Sanders, was busy leading all NFL rookies in scrimmage yards, JJAW caught just 10 passes for 169 yards.

At one point he went six straight games without a catch. The last five games of the season he had two catches.

“I could have done a lot of things better, but I got one under my belt and there ain’t no where to go but up from here,” he said. “I’ll work this offseason to become the player I know I can be for this team. Just have to go out there and do it.”

Last time an Eagles wide receiver drafted in the first or second round had fewer yards in a season was 1990, when 2nd-round pick Mike Bellamy didn't catch a pass.

What made JJAW’s lackluster rookie year even worse was how desperately the Eagles needed him.

By the end of the season he was literally the only wideout on the roster who didn’t come from the practice squad.

Yet he could barely get on the field.

I know I can play,” he said Monday. “I know I can be that player. It would be different if I was standing in front of you saying, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t be that guy.’ I know I can be. It’s going to be about patience and about hard work and when that hard work is going to pay off. That’s for everybody. We all work hard and we want the results to happen now. Sometimes it doesn’t work out like that, but you have to keep going.

What went wrong?

“I can’t pinpoint exactly one thing,” he said. “It’s not the want-to, I’ll tell you that. It’s not the hard work. I put in a lot of hard work, a lot of extra hours in, and it didn’t pay off right now, but eventually it will.”

There were moments.

He had a 30-yard catch in the first Seattle game, a 29-yarder against the Patriots, a 27-yarder against Dallas and a 22-yarder in the first Giants game.

But those encouraging moments were few and far between and overshadowed by moments like the costly drop at the goal-line against the Lions.

S**t, you get thrown in the fire, you’re going to either burn or you’re going to claw your way out, and I didn’t burn, that’s for sure,” he said. “I learned a lot. The rest of my life I can say I went through a lot and came out the other side better and now I feel like I can take on any challenge and any adversity because I feel like I’ve gone through some of the lowest of the lows as a professional athlete, and I’ve experienced some highs, too. And as a rookie what else could you want?

Arcega-Whiteside said he’ll go back to Palo Alto to train this offseason and try to recapture “the things that made me the player I was at Stanford.”

He needs to find whatever was missing or his Eagles career is going to be a short one.

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‘Don’t nobody believe in us’ — Eagles’ young WRs feeling free

‘Don’t nobody believe in us’ — Eagles’ young WRs feeling free

These guys aren’t going to the Pro Bowl … but they might be going to the playoffs.

The Eagles are one win away from clinching the NFC East and if they get into the playoffs, their top three receivers in the wild card round will be Greg Ward Jr., J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Robert Davis.

That might sound like a ton of pressure on the young trio.

But it’s the exact opposite.

“You’re playing with house money,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “That’s how we’re approaching it.

“S—, don’t nobody believe in us. We believe in each other. We ain’t got no other choice. Whatever we do out there, they’re either going to not believe in us or they start to believe in us and we can build off of that.”

It’s not like this trio is setting the world on fire, but the Eagles are winning. While Ward has been stacking some productive games, the production hasn’t really been there as much for Arcega-Whiteside and Davis. But all three contributed in the win over the Cowboys.

• Ward had four catches for 71 yards, including a huge 38-yarder down the sideline on the third quarter touchdown.

• Arcega-Whiteside had just two catches for 39 yards but both came on the tone-setting field goal drive to start the game. One was a 27-yarder on the first play from scrimmage and the other was a 12-yarder on 3rd-and-10.

• And Davis had just one catch but it was a six-yarder to move the sticks on the touchdown drive in the first quarter.

These guys aren’t the trio of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor that we all thought would be destroying defenses while catching passes from Carson Wentz. But they’re what’s left. And they’ve been a part of a youth movement with the Eagles this season.

The Eagles’ offense has completely changed from earlier in the season based on personnel. And with the younger players in there, the Eagles have benefitted from simplifying things from an offensive perspective, head coach Doug Pederson said.

“These guys, they are busting their tail for Carson,” Pederson said. “And Carson is trusting them and giving them every opportunity to make plays.”

Despite injuries, the older trio is still around. That’s something the younger guys stressed. Alshon and DeSean and Nelly are still in the meeting room, they’re still there to answer questions and to help their teammates prepare during the week.

They’re just not there on Sundays to get in the way of them playing.

“I would say we all learned from them,” Ward said. “Now, we’re just putting it to work right now. I’d say we’re all very mature, we’re all ballplayers, we’re all very professional. We’re just taking what we learned in the film room and learn from those guys and put it out on the field.”

There’s a glimmer of hope that if the Eagles are able to make it to the divisional round of the playoffs, Jackson might be able to join them. But the Eagles have two more games to try to win before they get to that point.

One of them will come on Sunday in North Jersey when they face the Giants. The Eagles are going into a game to decide the division with three pretty inexperienced receivers.

No big deal.

“We played tonight with just us three,” Arcega-Whiteside said after Sunday’s in over the Cowboys. “We played last week with just us three.”

These three have been gaining confidence and have been feeling more comfortable every week they’ve played. If you don’t think they can get it done, that’s actually a good thing. That’s what has them playing free right now.

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