At the beginning of the season, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside spent a week impersonating Julio Jones. A few months later, his assignment is to be more like Carson Walch, the Eagles’ wide receivers coach.
The 22-year-old rookie suddenly has become the elder statesman in his position meetings, with Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both on injured reserve. Nelson Agholor has spent the week trying to recover from a knee injury, meaning Arcega-Whiteside has quickly gone from the frenetic student to the experienced teacher, serving as a playbook consultant to newcomers such as Rob Davis, who was called up from the practice squad this week.
“He’s been very helpful to me," Davis said. "He continues, as the week goes on, to try to help me out, and do everything he can to make sure he’s in my ear and make sure I know what I’m doing.”
Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles’ second-round pick in April’s NFL draft, spent the early part of the season backing up Jeffery and working as a scout-team receiver at times; he called himself “Julio” in the days leading up to the Week 2 game against Atlanta.
This week, he’s been quizzing Davis like Walch used to quiz him.
“Coach would always kind of come up to me and ask me a question out the blue, like, ‘Hey what do you have on this [play], what do you have on that?' ” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I would have to think on my toes and give him the answer. Now, I’m doing that to Rob.
“The ownership’s on me to take the role of Nelly and Alshon in terms of being kind of just like the most knowledgeable in the wide receiver position to be able to tell everybody what they gotta do, just in case.”
The rookie out of Stanford spent most of training camp learning the offense at the "X" receiver spot, coming in when Jeffery got hurt. But as injuries thinned the receiving corps, Arcega-Whiteside was tasked with learning the other receiver positions as quickly as he could.
Depending on Agholor’s status for Sunday’s game against Washington, the Eagles might have just three healthy receivers to start the pivotal NFC East matchup. If Agholor can’t go, Arcega-Whiteside will be the only available receiver who was on the roster when the Eagles played Washington in Week 1.
Davis, a three-year veteran who was on the Washington sideline during that Week 1 matchup, said his new teammate’s comprehension of the Eagles’ scheme from different spots stood out to him.
“I’ve been impressed with how well he’s been able to learn everything as a rookie," Davis said. "To know every position, not just one, but knowing all three positions and even what the tight ends are doing. I’ve been really impressed with him.”
Coach Doug Pederson said during his Friday news conference that Arcega-Whiteside likely will spend most of his time against Washington at the "Z" position, with Davis and Greg Ward playing on the opposite side.
After Jeffery left the Giants game with a Lisfranc injury, the Eagles were down to just two receivers: Arcega-Whiteside and Ward, who had been called up from the practice squad last month.
Arcega-Whiteside said the two young wideouts weren’t sure which position they would play until after Wentz gave them the play call.
“It was funny because we would be in the huddle, and me and Greg don’t know what position we’re playing until we hear the play," Arcega-Whiteside said. "Then, we’d be like, ‘All right, you got that and I got this.’ We were just talking back and forth; instead of, ‘You have this position and I have that position,’ it was, ‘All right, let’s put you here because you’re probably going to be better at doing this.’ ”
Arcega-Whiteside finished the game against the Giants with two catches for 29 yards, including a 22-yarder when he shook off a defensive-holding on a third down late in the game.
He has eight catches for 130 yards and one touchdown this season and likely will continue to see his role expand down the stretch.
The final three games of the regular season could define his year, and Arcega-Whiteside knows it.
“For me, obviously I would have loved to have contributed to this point a lot more," he said. "But I don’t want to think about that too much, because what matters is these next couple games and winning these games. This is where I gotta be at my best. It doesn’t matter what we did before.”