JJ Arcega-Whiteside said he came into his second season a changed receiver, hardly recognizing the player he saw when he watched his rookie film.
Chances are the tape of the season opener was a little too familiar for the Eagles' 2019 second-round pick, then. He played 41% of the Eagles' offensive snaps plays and had zero targets to show for it. In 486 snaps last year, Arcega-Whiteside had 22 targets.
After such a promising training camp, Arcega-Whiteside appeared to be turning a corner from the lackluster rookie season, but his first game action wasn’t as encouraging. Coach Doug Pederson said Zach Ertz’s touchdown catch on the opening drive was actually a play designed for Arcega-Whiteside, who had several impressive catches during red-zone periods in training camp.
“He’s always involved and he’s going to continue to have targets each and every week,” Pederson said. “It was unfortunate the touchdown to Zach Ertz was actually targeted to JJ, and the defense defended it, so we had to go somewhere else with the football. That’s just what happens in the course of a play and we target certain guys, but if that guy is not available, we have to reload and go somewhere else with the football.”
First-year wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said he talked to Arcega-Whiteside to keep him positive after the uneventful day, saying the lack of catches doesn’t change the improvements he made in the offseason.
“I did have a conversation with him to let him know that, hey, look, we hope that’s not the case,” Moorehead said. “ ‘You had a great camp. You played well.’ He’s done so much better than where he was last year at this time. ... So I did reassure him. I said, ‘Hey, you’re in our plans. You’re in our plans to have targets,’ and things like that. But unfortunately, last game it didn’t happen.’”
Moorehead has been busy this week keeping Arcega-Whiteside positive while also working with rookie receivers Jalen Reagor and John Hightower to fix some of the miscues that ailed the Eagles' offense last Sunday. Hightower caught just one pass for negative yards last week, dropped another, and had a target intercepted on a screen. Reagor made a splashy 55-yard catch, but said he had plenty to improve on. One of his targets was also picked off and another downfield shot missed because of a mistake on his part, he said.
Moorehead doesn’t want the pair of rookies to forget last Sunday but instead use it as a learning experience as they figure out the NFL on the fly.
“For their first game, there’s little things, details, that they’ve got to get cleaned up,” Moorehead said. “We concentrated on some things this week. They’re pretty diligent about their work and I was really pleased with their progress from Week 1 to Week 2 as far as practice and game and practice again. So hopefully that transitions to the game on Sunday.”
The Eagles will get their first look at the defensive tackle trio formed this offseason, with Javon Hargrave not listed on the team’s injury report leading into Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Hargrave, who signed a three-year, $39 million contract last March, missed all of training camp and the first week of practice because of a pectoral strain and hamstring injury. The 27-year-old who spent his first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers was a full participant in practice Friday and is on track to make his Eagles debut.
As expected, both Miles Sanders and Lane Johnson are expected to return to the lineup after missing Week 1. Both players said earlier in the week that they’d be playing, although Johnson conceded he wouldn’t likely be 100% recovered from a lingering ankle injury that required surgery last month.