When football season was over and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside went home to South Carolina, and people started asking how his rookie year went, he had no choice but to be honest.
Which couldn't have been much fun.
"I kept it real," he said. "I wasn't good enough. I mean, you turn on the TV, you could see it."
Last year was a nightmare for JJAW.
Thanks to injuries that decimated the wide receiver position along with the midseason release of Mack Hollins, Arega-Whiteside got plenty of chances to play. His 504 snaps were 2nd-most among all Eagles WRs, behind only Nelson Agholor.
But when the season ended, all he had to show for it was 10 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.
With the Eagles desperate for outside playmakers down the stretch, he played 145 snaps the last four games of the season and caught two passes.
On Thursday, Arcega-Whiteside spoke to the Philly media for the first time since January and talked about how disappointing last year was, and what steps he took to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"Last year is in the past," he said. "I look back at it now and I'm thinking, ‘Man, I'm a totally different player than I was then,' and I kind of laugh about it because I don't even know who that was. And that just happens to some people. Some people get into the NFL and things are moving fast and it's hard to keep up. Some people ball out their first year. But I look back at it and I'm not even the same guy, so I'm not even going to worry about what happened last year. Definitely going to be different this year."
Arcega-Whiteside said he took some time off once last year ended but quickly committed to reinventing himself both physically and mentally.
He developed a daily routine of running, lifting, swimming and yoga and also caught balls from a JUGS machine he bought.
He said he worked five to seven hours a day and lost seven or eight pounds of fat along the way.
"I took every day with the same approach," he said. "I need to get better than the day before, and before I knew it I was running way faster than I was before, I was running better routes, I knew the plays, and everything just clicked, just like that. After a certain point I was like, ‘Yeah, I can run, I can run routes, I can play football and the mental side of things just went away. I've got my confidence, I've got the mental side of things, strong, I'm ready to go."
Arcega-Whiteside ran a 4.49 at his pro day, but he looked slow-footed once he got on the field.
Maybe it was the extra weight. Maybe it was not knowing the offense the way he should have. Maybe it was a lack of confidence.
But he wasn't content to just be the slow possession guy.
"Definitely, last year I didn't show that I could run, and that was something I worked on this offseason," he said. "Because I can run. And I didn't prove it last year. But this year we wanted speed so I got my speed up, too, so I could show them we have a receiving corps full of fast guys. Everybody in this receiving corps can run."
JJAW, the 57th pick in last year's draft, said he welcomes competition from the three speedy receivers the Eagles drafted and knows he has to earn everything he gets.
"Competition brings out the best in all of us," he said. "I love these guys, we work hard together, they're very talented, and they bring out the best in me, as well."
Is he really a different guy?
"Night and day different," he said. "Around this time last year, I'm trying to learn all the plays, trying to find chemistry with Carson [Wentz], learn how everything works in the NFL. Second time around, shoot… I'm pretty confident in the plays. I don't go into practice with a script in my hand trying to memorize the plays I have. I'm in the huddle, you call the play, I know what I've got to do. And now I can play faster, I can play more confidently and show everybody what I can do."
He sounds convincing. He's saying all the right things.
But with no preseason games, we won't really know until next month.
With Alshon Jeffery out indefinitely and Jalen Reagor and the other rookies still learning, JJAW will certainly get his chances. So far in camp, he's been alternating reps with Reagor at the X position.
But if he struggles again, this time around the Eagles will have some other options just waiting for their shot.
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