Eagles training camp 2022: Can J.J. Arcega-Whiteside really pull off rare position switch?

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Can Arcega-Whiteside really pull off rare position switch? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Day 1 did not go well.

At all.

It was an OTA practice at the NovaCare Complex on May 31 where J.J. Arcega-Whiteside first lined up at tight end.

He felt lost.

This wasn’t exactly Jordan Mailata trying to play football for the first time ever, but the transition from receiver to tight end isn’t an easy one.

“I was making some mistakes and I could tell the guys were giggling in the back,” he says now with a laugh. “I was asking what might have been dumb questions, but for me they were things I needed to know, things I had never heard of. I was starting from scratch."

Gradually, concepts became more recognizable and plays became more familiar.

He began thinking like a tight end and the giggling eventually stopped.

“The guys have been helpful," he said. "They’ve been very accepting knowing that I’m coming in with a clean slate and no experience at the position, and even if I do ask dumb questions, they’re not going to clown me about it. They understand I just don’t know because I haven’t been in that position. It just takes time.”

Safe to say the first few years of Arcega-Whiteside’s career have not gone the way anybody expected.

JJAW, the Eagles’ second-round pick in 2019, had just 16 catches for 290 yards and one touchdown in three seasons and was targeted only five times last year, catching two passes for 36 yards.

The Eagles are nothing if not creative.

With A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal now in the mix along with DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins – and possibly Greg Ward and conceivably Jalen Reagor and maybe even Britain Covey – there just wasn’t a spot for Arcega-Whiteside in the WR room.

But he’s always been a very good blocker, he’s a physical player, and with only Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Tyree Jackson, Richard Rodgers and Noah Togiai behind Dallas Goedert, why not give him a look at tight end?

“I always embrace challenges,” JJAW said after practice Tuesday. “Always embrace anything I have to work for. I don’t like things given to me. I like to earn things, and this is definitely one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in football.

"My goal isn’t just to play tight end but to play it at a high level.”

Jackson is still recovering from a torn ACL, Rodgers was just activated from the injury list Thursday and Calcaterra is out for now with a hamstring injury, so that means more reps for Arcega-Whiteside. And he needs them. He understands he’s not going to get this figured out overnight.

“It’s going pretty well,” he said. “The more reps the better. Just trying to get better every day, and there’s going to be a day where everything comes second nature.

“It’s not easy when you’ve played a position for 10 years, 12 years. I’ve played receiver since I was a kid. Obviously, at tight end you do have some receiver crossover, so I’m taking what I know about receiver and applying it to a new position and then focusing on all the new things I have to learn.

“We have some great guys in the room to learn from, some really great vets, and they’ve all been really helpful. Honestly, I really feel like I'm getting better.”

Arcega-Whiteside said he put on about 10 pounds – he said he's currently around 235 to 242 – and he did it without losing any speed.

“The other day I almost hit 21 miles per hour (on the GPS),” he said. “Guess I haven’t lost a step. Glad to see those numbers are still up.”

The biggest adjustment for Arcega-Whiteside is thinking on the fly. Making adjustments in the middle of a rep.

“When you line up at receiver, you know your route, you look at the ball and you go when the ball is snapped,” he said. “Now, it’s like a lot more eyes and ears, a lot more communication, a lot more seeing who you block, how they move. OK, they moved positions, now your assignment changes and you’ve got to communicate with the guy next to you.

“That’s the biggest challenge. It’s a lot more than just lining up and doing what you’ve got to do. That aspect in itself can get confusing if you don’t do it enough, but that’s the good thing about our coaches, we take a lot of walkthrough reps, we dissect film a lot. It’s like learning a new language. The more you speak it, the better you know it, and at some point it’s second nature.”

Arcega-Whiteside knows he’s fighting some pretty long odds here.

For starters, he’s only 6-foot-2, and that’s short for a tight end, although guys like Trey Burton and Keith Jackson were 6-foot-2. Stoll showed last year he’s a very good blocker, and Calcaterra showed before he got hurt that he catches the ball very well.

But if this is what the coaches want him to do? This is what he’s going to do. And he’s going to give it everything he has.

And none of this means he’ll never play wide receiver again – either here or somewhere else.

“I wouldn’t say there’s no going back,” he said. “I’ve just always been a guy that whatever the coach needs me to do I’m going to do.

“Last year it was, ‘You’re going to be the enforcer, you’re going to put your head in peoples’ chest and try to knock them down,’ and for me, OK, whatever you need me to do I’ll do.

“If you need me to go play special teams I’ll do it, if you need me to play tight end I’ll do it. Whatever they need me to do, I adjust accordingly and try to learn as much as possible and help the team as much as possible. That’s all I’m focused on.”