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May 29, 2019

In crowded offense, Eagles players not worried about getting their touches

Eagles NFL
Carroll - Eagles Stock J.J. Arcega-Whiteside Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

The Eagles have a lot of playmakers on offense, especially after an offseason that saw them bring in DeSean Jackson and Jordan Howard and take a pair of skill players, Miles Sanders and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, there's only one ball — and only so many touches — to go around. 

The four players listed above will join an Eagles offense that already includes Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor at receiver, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert at tight end, Super Bowl LII hero Corey Clement out of the backfield, and the team's two leading rushers from 2018, Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood. 

So how are they going to work all those players into their offense? According to head coach Doug Pederson, that's a problem for another day. 

"This is the time of the year we can do that and really kind of experiment with the personnel we have on offense," Pederson said last week. "That's the exciting thing because we're not playing games for a while, so we are not game planning anything. We are executing and trying to get better with our scheme."

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Mike Groh was asked about all those weapons he'll have at his disposal this season.

"Well, we certainly feel really good about the guys we have from a skill-level standpoint, whether you're talking about tight ends or the receiver position or the running back position," Groh said. "We like the weapons that we have on offense, and just blending them all together is kind of the process we're going through right now."

And that process, albeit better than the opposite, is going to be tricky. Because no matter how you slice it, that's a lot of mouths to feed. And there's only one football to go around. The Eagles, however, don't see it as a problem. 

"Like you said, there is one ball," Groh added. "I think [the players] understand that. Maybe it's not unique, but one of the things that makes it a lot of fun to come to work every day is really all these guys want to do is win.

"They understand that by having a lot of good players it makes you hard to defend and that they might have to share the football."

It's not just the number of players in line for touches, but their roles within the locker room that are plentiful. There are the newcomers to Pederson's offense, from rookies like Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside to veterans like Jackson and Howard, as well as a plethora of returning players who are already established inside the NovaCare Complex, like Ertz, Jeffery and Agholor.

But even among those groupings, the circumstances around each player can vary greatly. 

For Sanders, who was at Tuesday's practice but didn't participate due to a sore hamstring, there's only so much he can show during these early camps that don't involve tackling, or even pads. But for fellow rookie Arcega-Whiteside, there are more opportunities to flash, and he took advantage of one of those at the Eagles' most recent practice, making a tremendous back-shoulder grab for a touchdown during red zone drills.

But what can he realistically offer the offense in Year 1, with the Eagles expected to run several double tight end sets and their top three wideout spots (Jeffery, Jackson and Agholor) already more or less set in stone?

"I think we saw last year there was a bunch of — kind of a revolving door a little bit at wide out," Groh said. "It's hard to go the entire season and play with just five guys. I think it will evolve as we go. We're trying to figure out his game and he's trying to figure out the system. We really like the player. He obviously has size. His ball skills are excellent. He's another weapon that should make us hard to beat."

Despite all that upside and a skillset the Eagles clearly covet, Arcega-Whiteside has much further to climb up the depth chart than Sanders, and more guys with whom he must share the ball. And this early portion of camp can be extra benefits to guys like JJAW, who, as Pederson alluded to above, can leave an impression on coaches before they even really start putting their regular season plans together. 

And, much to his credit, the 23-year-old wideout from Stanford sees the crowded offense as something from which he can benefit, rather than something that might cause frustration.

“I feel like we are at the point where we know whoever gets the ball will make something big happen," he said after Tuesday's practice. "It kind of takes the pressure off of you knowing the guy next to you can do the job as good if not better.”

That's certainly one way of looking at it — especially considering a different player might view that competition as a source of pressure rather than an escape from it. 

It doesn't matter how many catches, how many targets I get, I'm just trying to win, and I'm trying to win big... The goal is to be playing into early February, late January — and we're not going to settle for anything less.

On the other end of the spectrum are the returning veterans. 

For Ertz and Jeffery, their futures are a bit more secure, while Agholor, who has transformed into a veteran leader in the wide receivers room, has found himself at the center of trade rumors as he heads into a contract year. 

Needless to say, he's trying to block those distractions out as much as possible. 

"[I'm just going to] bust by butt, work hard and grind, and at the end of the day, what's meant for you will be for you," Agholor said.

One of the things working in his favor is his versatility, something he hopes to put on display again in 2019.

"I'm going to play everywhere. That's what I do, that's what I love" said Agholor, who expressed his desire to remain in Philadelphia multiple times on Tuesday. "I like playing in the slot, because it gives me an advantage to use my speed vs. some guys and to use my size vs. other guys. I've learned a lot playing in there. And I've played a lot of outside receiver in my life, so I know how to win outside too, on go-balls, post-balls, things like that. 

"At the end of the day, I do whatever I need to do to help my team win."

And that seems to be the overarching theme early in Eagles camp — doing whatever it takes to win, even if that means taking a lesser role.

Just ask Zach Ertz, who set an NFL record for tight ends with 116 receptions in 2018 after averaging just just under 76 per season for the previous three years. 

"I think we've got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football here, and no one's really worried right now about how any touches they're going to get," Ertz said. "I've had a year where I've had a good year individually and we won a Super Bowl, and I've had a year where I had a ton of catches and we didn't win a Super Bowl — and I can tell you right now that the year we won the Super Bowl was a lot more fun than having 116 catches. So I'll take a Super Bowl every year. 

"It doesn't matter how many catches, how many targets I get, I'm just trying to win, and I'm trying to win big. And since we have such a veteran group, I feel like that feeling's mutual for a lot of the guys. I can't speak for everyone else, but that's the vibe I'm getting right now from everyone. 

"The goal is to be playing into early February, late January — and we're not going to settle for anything less."

Even if that means fewer touches.

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