Eagles coach Doug Pederson indicated Wednesday that rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will start on the outside Sunday at Miami, with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor expected to return to the lineup from injuries.
“J.J. is kind of the guy now,” Pederson said. “He’s the one that’s in that position, and he’s done some nice things in the games. He’s gaining a little more confidence in that.”
While Jeffery (ankle) and Agholor (knee) were listed as limited practice participants, tight end Zach Ertz missed Wednesday’s practice with what the team called a hamstring problem. Ertz has 67 catches for 712 yards, playing 87 percent of the offensive snaps this season.
Playing significant snaps in three games, Arcega-Whiteside has five catches for 86 yards. In the waning moments of Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, he caught a 30-yard pass that helped set up the Eagles’ only touchdown.
“I’m excited,” the second-round pick from Stanford said. “It’s going to be fun.”
He said he had been taking extra reps with all three quarterbacks and working with offensive coordinator Mike Groh to get ready. Pederson pointed to Arcega-Whiteside’s performances in practice as the main reason he’s confident in the rookie.
"What I’ve seen in practice, how he’s taken his coaching from the classroom to the practice field,” Pederson said. “Some of the things he did in the game last week, ... just how he was able to run routes. ... It’s where we are in our season, these guys, obviously we drafted for a reason; now, we have to get them to play and play well.”
Arcega-Whiteside, 6-foot-2, 225, had 63 catches for 1,059 yards in his senior season at Stanford, with 14 touchdown passes. He has faced criticism for being less productive than other receivers drafted this year.
“Film room, playbook-wise, everybody’s been so helpful and supportive, getting me to where I need to be,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Hopefully, I can go and showcase what I can do.”
Carson Wentz praised Arcega-Whiteside and recent practice squad call-up Greg Ward when Wentz spoke to reporters on Wednesday.
“I’ve seen a lot of good from them,” Wentz said. “I’ve seen some big catches, some big plays. We see it more in practice ... . I see their confidence is growing every week.”
Arcega-Whiteside’s route-running was criticized after the Seattle game on social media by former Eagles wide receiver Bryce Treggs and former quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Both made particular mention of the fourth-quarter, fourth-and-2 slant Arcega-Whiteside ran. They said that after the rookie stopped, and as Wentz released the ball, Arcega-Whiteside hopped a few steps to one side, making the throw look egregiously off-target as he reached for it in vain.
“We’re two professionals, we gotta make the play,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s one person’s fault. We all share the blame. ... We gotta make it happen.”
Running back Jay Ajayi played Sunday for the first time since suffering an ACL tear in Week 5 of the 2018 season. He carried six times for 16 yards. The team’s leading rusher, Jordan Howard, still hasn’t been cleared for contact, so Ajayi could have an even bigger role in Miami.
Ajayi originally came to the Eagles in a 2017 trade with the Dolphins, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2015. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016.
“I made a lot of great memories there, accomplished a lot of great things there,” Ajayi said. “It’ll be just nostalgic.”
Ajayi said that when he signed back with the Eagles two weeks ago, he didn’t know they were scheduled to play his former team.