When JJ Arcega-Whiteside was still at Stanford, his wide receivers coach decided to go for a new hairstyle.
Bobby Kennedy, a Cardinal assistant coach since 2017, decided to grow out his hair for the first time in decades. He ditched the bald look, and his star receiver noticed, warning him that his hairline was “pushing back.” Kennedy eventually reverted back to the shaved head, but now he gets the last laugh.
“It became a running joke between me and him. I told him, ‘If you ever look in the mirror, bro, that little mop on top your head is getting pretty thin, too,’ " Kennedy said.
Any playful jabs the two share now are mostly over texts, as Arcega-Whiteside works to make sizable improvements for his second season with the Eagles after they selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft.
In a deep receiver class that saw players taken after the 6-foot-2 wideout make immediate impacts, Arcega-Whiteside struggled to get consistent playing time even with opportunities to do so after injuries depleted his position.
He finished the season with 10 catches on 22 targets for 169 yards and one touchdown and spent about half the season learning the plays for the various receiver positions. Kennedy said he doesn’t watch much of the NFL but would keep tabs on his former player and text him about once a week.
“I know there were probably some times where he was kind of doing some soul searching and was frustrated,” Kennedy said.
“I always tell guys this ... even when you think you’re the most ready to step into somebody’s shoes, there’s always an adjustment period. I’m sure with him there was an adjustment period, and who doesn’t want to be the guy and have success right away? I’m sure there was some disappointment and frustration, but the JJ that I know is the guy that kind of takes things head on and he’ll continue to battle.”
As underwhelming as Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie year was, it would be foolish to write off any player after his rookie season, especially at the receiver position. Kennedy, who has run in the same circle as new Eagles wide receiver coach Aaron Moorehead for years, thinks Moorehead’s arrival is reason for optimism about Arcega-Whiteside’s second year.
“I think Aaron Moorhead is the perfect guy to coach him,” Kennedy said. “I know Aaron, I know what type of coach he is and what type of person he is. I think JJ will really flourish under him because I think Aaron is a really good teacher and I think he’ll be able to teach JJ maybe some of those things that he has to get better at.”
Moorehead and Arcega-Whiteside have yet to get much if any time together in person.
In the meantime, Arcega-Whiteside and a few other Eagles receivers are keeping busy. Jalen Reagor, the team’s first-round pick this year, posted a video on his Instagram of several Eagles, including Carson Wentz and Arcega-Whiteside, working out on a field in an undisclosed location.
“He said he’s killing his workouts and he’s talking to people back in Philadelphia, whether it be [general manager Howie Roseman], Aaron, and that they say he’s really doing well,” Kennedy said. “He feels like he’s having a really good offseason. I think they feel really good about what he’s doing and how he’s working.”
Playing time could be harder for Arcega-Whiteside to earn this year. The Eagles drafted three receivers and traded for Marquise Goodwin, they expect DeSean Jackson to come back healthy, and Alshon Jeffery is still on the team while healing from foot surgery.
In his favor, though, is his playing style compared with the players the team brought in. Arcega-Whiteside was highly regarded as a draft prospect because of his ability to win contested balls, especially downfield. The Eagles added speed in droves, with most of the newcomers coming in under 6-feet.
The team needs speed — Wentz ranked 30th among starting quarterbacks in yards per completion last year in a offense devoid of explosive plays — but Arcega-Whiteside is the only big-bodied wideout in the mix until Jeffery recovers. He didn’t show much ability on 50-50 balls during his rookie season, but doing so would help diversify the receiving corps.
“He’s a guy that, when somebody’s hanging on him, he’ll go up and get the ball,” Kennedy said.