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How Eagles WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside increased his chances of making the 53-man roster

A film session Thursday night might have inspired Arcega-Whiteside's performance the next night against the Jets.

Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside running with the ball against New York Jets linebacker Hamsah Nasirildeen (center) and cornerback Brandin Echols on Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.
Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside running with the ball against New York Jets linebacker Hamsah Nasirildeen (center) and cornerback Brandin Echols on Friday in East Rutherford, N.J.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Ahead of the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Jets, first-year coach Nick Sirianni gathered his players inside a large conference room at the team hotel Thursday evening and pulled out a projector.

Throughout training camp, Sirianni has shared multiple videos that have showcased a variety of athletes with hopes of inspiring his players by showing the best of the best from other sports.

On Thursday, though, he highlighted a handful of players in the past who made NFL rosters based on standout performances in a preseason finale. Did his latest motivation tactic make an impact on any players on the mend?

Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside certainly made a late push with his performance in the final exhibition. The former second-round pick from the 2019 NFL draft had two catches for 57 yards, including a 42-yard reception from quarterback Joe Flacco. On the scoring play, Arcega-Whiteside averted from his route and cut up field, made a difficult catch over one defensive back and evaded another as he tip-toed along the right sideline and into the end zone.

His touchdown reception gave the Eagles a 21-10 lead with 5 seconds left in the first half. On the ensuing kickoff, Arcega-Whiteside took that momentum and recorded a special teams tackle.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt good,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “But at the same time, you can’t look in the past. I mean, you just gotta take it day by day. The moment you start looking too much into the past, you start looking too much into the future, you miss your opportunity where you’re at today.

“That’s just kind of been my mentality. Whatever happened yesterday, whatever happens tomorrow, be focused and be present.”

When Arcega-Whiteside signals the past, he’s referring to his widely known struggles throughout his first two seasons in the NFL: He has just 14 catches and one touchdown in 24 games. Last season, he recorded only four receptions for 85 yards. The former Stanford receiver didn’t do much to stand out in camp either ... until the preseason finale.

“We’ve wrapped up training camp and preseason is over,” Sirianni said. “We’ve got another week before we’re into preparation for Atlanta [in the season opener on Sept. 12]. We’ve got one more week of work ... I know we’re leaving New York a better team than when we came to New York.”

Sirianni continued: “You saw a lot of players play their hearts out. They played hard and physical. I saw a lot of guys have some success. I don’t want to single anyone out. That was the message I wanted to get across [Thursday] night. Here’s five guys that have made the team on that last game. Here’s the plays that they made in the last game that changed our minds as coaches and got them to stick. The guys really felt that. They left it all out on the field and put it all on tape.”

Still, Arcega-Whiteside isn’t a lock to make the team. Neither are fellow receivers John Hightower, Greg Ward Jr., Travis Fulgham, and Andre Patton.

The only sure-ins are rookie DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Quez Watkins.

“I really haven’t had time to reflect on the past and the past three, four weeks,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Just because I try to just, day by day, get better every day, do what I can to help this team win games and everything else is out of my control.

“Going into camp, I told myself big plays are going to happen and mistakes are going to happen. The only thing you can control is giving effort.”

Five players waived

Ahead of the 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline, in which teams are required to submit initial 53-man rosters to the league office, the Eagles announced their first batch of cuts Sunday morning.

The team waived running back Elijah Holyfield, wide receiver Marken Michel, tight end Cary Angeline, defensive end JaQuan Bailey, and linebacker Rashad Smith, trimming the roster to 74 players. The Eagles still need to cut 21 additional players before Tuesday’s deadline.

As a reminder, NFL teams can keep 16 players on the practice squad this season.