Eagles Finally Turning Toward Young Receivers
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's probably taken a bit too long but Doug Pederson finally seems prepared to pull the trigger on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
The Eagles coach said Wednesday that the rookie second-round pick will continue to have an expanded role on offense moving forward even with the projected returns of veterans Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to the lineup this Sunday in Miami.
"J.J.'s been kind of cross-training at a lot of different positions. We kept him at X, he's learned Z, he can play Z. Mack [Hollins] obviously he can play all three. But J.J.'s kind of the guy now," Pederson admitted. "He's the one that's in that position and he's done some nice things these last couple of games. He's gaining a little more confidence in that."
Arcega-Whiteside saw significant snaps early in the season in consecutive games at Atlanta and vs. Detroit due to injuries to Jeffery and DeSean Jackson but had been a bit player since after failing to come up with a tough, contested catch late against the Lions that would have likely turned an Eagles loss into a W.
When injuries struck again in recent weeks Philadelphia brought back Jordan Matthews off the street for a third tour rather than play the rookie but after two consecutive lackluster performances from Matthews, who was waived earlier this week, the Eagles are turning to Arcega-Whiteside as they attempt to turn a 5-6 record into an NFC East title by running the table against what is projected to be some rather lackluster competition.
As former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky pointed out this week Arcega-Whiteside's route running hasn't been the sharpest and perhaps that explains why the Stanford product has had such difficulty getting on the field, playing just 32 percent of the offensive snaps with those numbers spiked by significant playing time against the Falcons, Lions and last week against Seattle. In the other eight games this season Arcega-Whiteside's participation has ranged from a low of two snaps to a high of 19.
Flashes, however, have come over the past two weeks with receptions of 29 yards against New England and 30 vs. the Sehawks, not chopped liver for an offensive struggling to find explosive plays wherever it can get them.
“I just think that what I've seen in practice, how he's working, how he's taking his coaching from the classroom to the practice field. Some of the things he did in the game last week. Even though the ball necessarily maybe didn't go his direction, just how he was able to run routes and some of the things that he did that way, blocking, things of that nature," Pederson said when asked why now? "And look, it's where we are in our season and these guys obviously were drafted for a reason and now we have to get them to play and play well."
Pederson also is going to carve out more of a role for Greg Ward moving forward after the practice-squad promotee hauled in six receptions against the Seahawks last week.
“He’s earned it,” Pederson said of the former University of Houston quarterback turned slot receiver. “He deserves it by the way he’s practiced. He’ll have a role.”
The odd man out seems to be Hollins, who just hasn't producted in extended opportunities and has not caught a pass since Septemeber.
As for why it's taken so long for Pederson to get to this point with Ward, a player who has spent part of the last three seasons on the PS, the coach admitted that sometimes it's just difficult to find players an opportunity.
“Sometimes it’s complicated with the roster,” Pederson explained. “We felt like we were on track to maybe getting him up a couple of weeks ago, but then we have an injury in the secondary and you’ve got to pull a guy up there."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen