J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins have been sharing a number and a name the last few days.
The two young wide receivers have worn red No. 11 jerseys this week as they emulate Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones for the Eagles’ defense during practice in preparation for Sunday night’s game in Atlanta.
“You’ve got to just have fun with it,” Arcega-Whiteside said after Friday’s practice. “Me and Mack, we don’t even call each other by our own names. We call each other ‘Julio.' ”
While practice-squad players are typically used to emulate the opposing team, Jones is 6-foot-3, and it would be a stretch for Eagles practice-squad receivers Greg Ward (5-11) and Marcus Green (5-8) to mimic him. That’s where the 6-2 Arcega-Whiteside and 6-4 Hollins come in.
“You get a chance to work on some things you probably never work on, or run some routes you don’t work on,” said Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round rookie out of Stanford who was on the field for five offensive snaps last Sunday in the Eagles’ season-opening win over Washington. “You work on your technique, work on your skill, and then you watch [Jones] do it on film, and you go, ‘Let me try doing that out there.’"
Jones has averaged 9.5 receptions and 136.5 yards in his last four games against the Eagles. However, the Eagles have held him scoreless in the last three meetings.
That’s not to say there weren’t any close calls. There was the history-defining play during the 2017 NFC divisional playoff game, when Jones couldn’t reel in a high pass over Jalen Mills on fourth-and-goal in the back corner of the end zone with a minute left in the Eagles’ 15-10 victory.
And the incomplete pass in the opposite corner on Week 1 last year as time expired.
Regardless, Jones has been a pain for the Eagles, but it hasn’t translated to wins. The Eagles have won the last three matchups against the Falcons.
What’s been the key to limiting his damage?
“Keep him out of the end zone,” coach Doug Pederson said. “This is a dynamic player, and we’ve faced guys like this before, and it takes — on defense, it takes all 11 on every play. Obviously, you’ve got to know where he lines up, and then you just have to do your job, do your assignment, be focused on the details of that defense, that particular down.”
Making life difficult for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan doesn’t hurt, either.
“Obviously, if we can disrupt the quarterback, it helps,” Pederson said. “But we know he’s going to get his. He’s a great player. We’ll just try to do our best to corral him and keep him out of the end zone.”
In the Falcons’ season-opening, 28-12 loss at Minnesota, Jones had six receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Other than using receivers from the 53-man roster, the preparation for Jones hasn’t been too unusual for the Eagles’ defense.