Backup Role For First-Round Pick Reagor?
On his Zoom conference Tuesday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson addressed several topics, including the projected role for first-round pick Jalen Reagor. Pederson surprisingly said Reagor would start training camp at the "Z" receiver spot before the coaches would implement cross-training, a curious comment given that DeSean Jackson has played the "Z" for almost all of his career and is expected to man the split end spot again in 2020. Pederson has also emphasized cross-training for receivers and offensive linemen since becoming Eagles head coach in 2016.
"But right now, he's going to come in and he's going to learn one position and he is going to learn from DeSean Jackson, and learn everything he can," Pederson said. "Obviously the playbook is extensive and we just have to see what he's taken from the offseason to training camp, and then once we see his potential and his growth, then we can use him in multiple spots."
(DeSean Jackson can be a mentor for rookie Jalen Reagor at split end, but Reagor is expected to also play the split end and move around).
This admission took some by surprise, as it seemed to suggest that Pederson envisions Reagor, picked 21st overall, as Jackson's backup for the 2020 season. Great, we used a first-round pick on a backup?
But there's two realities to keep in mind here. First, what Pederson tells the media isn't always synonymous with what actually happens. Ask Mike Groh and Carson Walch about this phenomenon. Second, the term "right now" in Pederson's quote should be read with extra emphasis, along with the latter part about using Reagor in multiple spots after the coaches gauge "his potential and his growth." Because the truth is that the Eagles have bigger plans for Reagor in 2020 than merely serving as Jackson's understudy.
Besides, right now, Reagor should be learning Jackson's position. The flanker spot, right now, is the first test for Reagor because flankers line up off the line of scrimmage, which means they can't be pressed by corners off the snap. The speedy Jackson, who has always played in the neighborhood of 165-175 pounds, is more effective when he can burst without being jammed, allowing his pure speed to shine through without interruption from the defense. The concern with Reagor is that, like most college receivers, he didn't face much press coverage at Texas Christian. Rookie receivers typically struggle at the pro level until they learn the right hand usage and technique to combat press. Although a source close to the situation said Reagor has been working diligently during his trainings in Dallas and Houston at defeating man-press, he can't possibly show the fruit of his labors until he gets and his teammates get on the practice field, which won't be for at least another month. Weeks ago, I reported on Inside the Birds that the Eagles plan to feature Reagor at the "X" while also moving him around to create mismatches that capitalize on the receiver's explosion and ability to create yards after the catch. Factors unrelated to Reagor's learning curve could prompt Pederson to find some snaps for Reagor at "Z," such as Jackson's health. The veteran deep threat, who turns 34 in December, has played just 15 games over the past two seasons and played in just two games last year before undergoing core muscle surgery. If Jackson suffered another long-term injury, Reagor could be the most logical candidate to provide the speed the Eagles typically seek from their flanker, so it's important that Reagor first and foremost learns all routes and assignments of that position. Also, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's development factors into the offense's blueprint. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick last season, struggled last year with route concepts along with simply catching the ball. He could barely get on the field even after injuries decimated the position. Arcega-Whiteside was cross-trained last year but is better suited to play "X" if he can make the necessary progress to deserve playing time. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside has the size and strength to fend off press coverage. At Stanford, Arcega-Whiteside demonstrated the ability to make contested catches and capitalize on his bigger frame to create separation in absence of top-end speed. He seemed like an obvious successor to Alshon Jeffery, another receiver whose size compensates for the lack of burners.
If Arcega-Whiteside can prove he belongs, Pederson will be able to fulfill his intention of moving Reagor around, perhaps even feature the rookie as an explosive slot receiver in three-wide formations, with Jackson and Arcega-Whiteside lined up on the outside. The coaches will give Arcega-Whiteside every opportunity this summer to pass or fail. But the idea that Reagor is poised to be Jackson's backup and play a limited role is laughable, and even Pederson should realize the absurdity of those interpretations of his remarks. Reagor being relegated to a backup role is a worst-case scenario only possible if the rookie falls flat on his face during camp and the preseason.
Pederson's plan to ensure that Reagor learns one position first should instead illustrate the difficulties he and his staff face this summer in assimilating a large number of rookies and newcomers into a new environment without the benefit of any OTAs or minicamps to jumpstart the process. Most of the playbook drilling and schooling takes place during the spring so coaches can escalate into season-preparation mode when the squad gathers for training camp. Usually, the team has just a few practices before the pads come out. This year, the "ramp-up" process is likely to be more time consuming than usual. Pederson might think twice about padded practices in the first week or two, as any missed time from injuries will be more costly this year than in the past. Pederson praised the players' commitment to virtual learning during the spring, but the reality is he won't know anything about the impact of Zoom sessions until he sees his team on the field.
"You can tell by their answers, their questions, the in-depth questions that they ask in the meetings," he said. "Again, once we get them on the grass, things move a little bit faster than virtual meetings.
"So it's how fast they can process the information that we've been giving them this spring. Like I said, once we get them on the grass, we'll know more and just how fast they can process the information from the meeting rooms on to the football field." For Reagor, it's best that he can process as fast as he runs. Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is a longtime Philadelphia Eagles and NFL reporter and co-host of Inside the Birds. Listen to the latest Inside the Birds podcast right here: