Without Jackson, Eagles Need Arcega-Whiteside on the Field
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Things haven't progressed as quickly as hoped for in the rookie season of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
It certainly seems like second-round pick is no closer to the field despite the fact that DeSean Jackson is likely to miss another game in Dallas and Mack Hollins has been underwhelming in recent weeks.
The problem seems to be cross-training or the lack thereof.
The Eagles have pigeonholed the former star as an X receiver behind Alshon Jeffery while Hollins has been designated with Z duties behind Jackson.
When Jeffery was dealing with a calf injury Arcega-Whiteside piled up 75 reps against Atlanta and 55 the next week against Detroit. Since then, JJAW has totaled just 13 offensive snaps over three games with Jeffery back in the lineup.
“When Alshon’s out and misses time, he’s the next guy in the game at that position,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said during his Tuesday press conference. “In practice, he ends up having to practice primarily there. When Alshon is here, that gives him the flexibility to bounce around a little bit more as opposed to everything being in the classroom.”
Any thought of cross-training leading to more time elsewhere was tempered a bit by Doug Pederson on Wednesday, however.
"It's going well. And he’s the type of guy that can handle it," Pederson said of Arcega-Whiteside branching out. "He is right now behind Alshon, and so obviously unless something happens to Alshon, it's hard to break in, unless he needs a blow during the game. But J.J. is ready every single week. He's prepared. We factor him in on specific plays so he can kind of hone in on those plays during the week and have him ready to go."
Fore Arcega-Whiteside the frustration is starting to mount.
The former Stanford star has just two receptions for 14 yards on the season and had a high-profile drop late in the game in a contested-catch opportunity against the Lions, something that is supposed be Arcega-Whiteside's forte as a player.
To date, 10 different receivers taken after Arcega-Whiteside, who was selected No. 57 overall in April's draft, have produced more and some like Washington's Terry McLaurin look like stars.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” Arcega-Whiteside said when asked about being bothered that other rookies are outpacing him. “But, at the same time, I can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. They’re in different situations than I’m in. Everybody is in a different situation, regardless of the team. Obviously, as a competitor, I want to be the best rookie, the best receiver."
For the Eagles offensive coaches, it might be time to stop being slaves to a depth chart it often claims doesn't exist and throw the more gifted player into the deep end of the pool when it comes to Arcega-Whiteside vs. Hollins. The latter has played 109 snaps over the past three games and managed just one reception for a paltry 13 yards on five targets.
Without Jackson and Dallas Goedert finally putting a calf injury behind him the Eagles have shifted toward being a predominantly "Tiger Personnel" team but Pederson is most comfortable as a play-caller with 11 personnel [three receivers].
To get that package on the field without Jackson means Hollins or Arcega-Whiteside have to play.
“We've just been in a lot more 12 personnel. That’s just what it is," Groh conceded.
When the Eagles do go to 11, though, it's time to shift because Arcega-Whiteside has a far bigger upside than Hollins even if the former would be outside his comfort zone.
“Just trying to get experience and reps at all three positions, it’s kind of tough," Arcega-Whiteside admitted. "Especially when the plays are drawn up specifically game to game, week to week, you go in and it’s like, ‘OK, this is basically a whole new playbook every week and I’m learning all three positions."
In the coaching staff's mind, it continues to be too tough but it's time to take the kid gloves off and allow Arcega-Whiteside to sink or swim.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen