Josh McCown and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside played pitch-and-catch Thursday night as if they had been sharing the same huddle for six years rather than just six days.
The second-round rookie wide receiver from Stanford had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ lightning-shortened 26-15 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Seven of Arcega-Whiteside’s receptions, including his 20-yard, third-quarter touchdown, were thrown by McCown.
“I wish I could tell you it was some magic [between us] or something like that,’’ McCown said. “But it’s more really him and the coaching he’s getting and his preparedness to play. It’s huge. For a young player, he carries himself the right way and works really hard.’’
Arcega-Whiteside is a rookie with the maturity level and on-field presence and confidence of a five-year veteran. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder will open the season as the Eagles’ fourth wide receiver, behind Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson, but figures to get on the field considerably more than most No. 4 wideouts.
Coach Doug Pederson likely will use JJAW’s size and contested-catch ability a lot in the red zone, where the Eagles struggled last season, falling from first in the NFL in 2017 to 17th.
“J.J. is a hard worker,’’ Pederson said. “You see it in practice every day. He comes to work every day. He wants to get better. He wants to be taught. He wants to learn. He has a great mentor in Alshon in front of him, so he’s learning from him.
“You saw his ability to make plays [against the Ravens]. The red zone, we know he can be explosive.’’
Arcega-Whiteside has been a sponge in the wide receivers room, absorbing every morsel of advice Jeffery, Agholor and Jackson give him.
“Alshon’s been tremendous,’’ he said. “Not only does he answer my questions, but he takes time to go out and show me. A lot of guys might be, ‘Yeah, whatever. You’ll figure it out.’ But he’ll take you through something step by step and tell you what he’s thinking, what you should’ve done in a situation, what he would’ve done.
“I talk to him a lot about just being a big receiver. A lot of technique stuff. Nellie, he knows the playbook inside and out. Anything I need to know with the playbook, he’s the guy to ask.
“And D-Jax, he’s actually been helping me more than you guys think. We spend a lot of time after practice. We’ll be watching film or talking during a game and he’ll remind me, ‘That’s what I showed you.’ Just being in that room with those guys is awesome.’’
Arcega-Whiteside made several impressive catches Thursday, not the least of which was the 20-yard TD, when he blew by the Ravens’ 6-3, 216-pound corner, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and hauled in a perfect pass from McCown in the back right corner of the end zone.
On the Eagles’ next possession, he made a nice shoestring catch of a low throw by McCown on a sprint out to the left. Later in the drive, he caught a pass over the middle and spun away from cornerback Maurice Canady for a 35-yard gain on a fourth-and-2 play.
“That catch on the throw around his feet might’ve been the most impressive one he made the whole night,’’ tight end Zach Ertz said. “They brought blitz, and Josh checked out of it. He threw the ball at J.J.’s shoelaces, but he made a heckuva play and picked up some more yards after the catch.’’
Arcega-Whiteside said he doesn’t know what his role in the offense will be this season.
“Hopefully, they’ll put me in position where I can help the team win games," he said. "But I’m just going to come out here and work hard and do whatever I can to help. Whatever role they have for me is what I’m going to try to do.
“I want to have a big role. I’m not here to sit behind somebody all year. At the same time, I do realize these guys are superstars. They’re the best of the best. I’m happy I get to be next to them and learn from them.’’
After the Eagles’ mandatory minicamp in June, Arcega-Whiteside took a week off and went to Hawaii. Then he flew directly to Dallas and spent the next month working alongside Jeffery in a gym run by Fletcher Cox’s personal trainer, Deon Hodges.
“The biggest advice I got from guys is the season is long, take some time off,’’ the rookie said. “So I went to Hawaii for a week, then trained 4-5 weeks in Dallas where it was hot. I was with Alshon, so I was able to learn from a guy who’d been there and done it.’’
Then he hit the ground running when training camp opened and has yet to look back.
“The playbook, it’s my first time running some of these plays,’’ he said. “Some of the routes are new. I never ran some of these routes before. So I’ve just been going out and repping it and getting it down and executing it until I don’t have to even think about it.
“That’s the biggest thing. It’s not just knowing what you have to do, but how you’re going to do it.’’
Arcega-Whiteside so far has had no difficulty adjusting to the physicality of the pro game, and he doesn’t expect to.
“I’m 220-225,’’ he said. “I’m going to get hit, but I’m not going to get smacked. If I get hit, I get hit. I’ll just get up and get ready for the next play.
“My attitude is, when the ball’s in the air, it’s yours. It’s nobody else’s. You’ve got to go get it. Our job as receivers is to catch the ball.’’