It was different, said rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside after making his NFL preseason debut, until the game actually started. Then, the second-round draft pick insisted, everything came into focus.
“It was just football,” Arcega-Whiteside said after contributing two receptions for 23 yards in Thursday night’s game against the Titans at Lincoln Financial Field. “Then you’re just out there playing, something I’ve been doing for a long time.”
The Eagles returned to Training Camp at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday and for players like Arcega-Whiteside and the rest of the Eagles’ Rookie Class, it was a return to something with which they’ve become accustomed. They knew what time the shuttle buses started pickups at the team hotel and took them to the NovaCare Complex for weigh-in, treatments, and breakfast. They knew the hour-to-hour routine of camp. The cadence was very familiar.
Now that they’ve played in a football game, they’ll have a better feel for Thursday when they make their first road trip as the Eagles play in Jacksonville. Every step for a rookie in the NFL is a new one. That’s part of the challenge of adjusting to this level of play. It isn’t solely what happens on the field; it’s also everything around it.
“I feel more settled in and comfortable with what I’m doing and what’s going on,” first-round draft pick Andre Dillard said. “At first, everything is fast. I remember that first weekend, being drafted and doing all the media and then flying to Philadelphia and meeting so many people and doing more media. It was pretty crazy. A lot is thrown at you. It happens so fast. And then you go away for a couple of weeks just to catch your breath and you’re back again and this time they’re teaching you a new system.
“The more you do something, the easier it gets. That’s the way it is with everything. Football is no exception. Things become more familiar the second time around.”
Dillard, running back Miles Sanders, Arcega-Whiteside, defensive end Shareef Miller, and quarterback Clayton Thorson experienced the uneven nature of the preseason on Thursday night. Dillard played a full half of action and impressed with this athleticism, technique, and performance at left tackle. Sanders dipped his toes in the water, carrying three times for 3 yards. Miller was around the football with some good and not-as-good snaps in extended time. And Thorson went a struggling 2 of 9 with one interception.
Now it’s on to the next challenge.
“There are always things you’re going to need to work on,” Thorson said after waves of reporters surrounded his locker following the preseason opener. “It’s a matter of setting my feet and throwing the ball on time and accurately like I know I can. I’m not frustrated. I’m eager to improve. Those throws were there for me and I just didn’t get the ball where I wanted it to go. That gives me a lot to work on.”
For the most part, the adjustment to a game (albeit, a preseason game) tempo wasn’t a big step up for the rooks. The Eagles practice fast, and while the game had more urgency, it wasn’t a dramatic difference. Playing in a game is a realization that everything has to be done right – perfection is always the goal – for a play to work.
“It comes down to basics, the things you’ve been taught, and what you’ve been working on,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You just have to keep your focus and go out there and get it done.”
Before all of that, though, there was a day of waiting. A long day. The Eagles stayed at their hotel and engaged in meetings and some downtime, just as they would in the regular season for a prime-time game. They had a pre-game meal at the NovaCare Complex. They parked in the lot where they’ll park for the home schedule starting September 8.
And, yes, they had some “moments.” Walking out onto the field with a crowd of more than 65,000 fans on hand and cheering crazily was an experience.
“It was crazy. It is everything I have been dreaming about,” Sanders said. “With a place like this, the fan base is crazy. Coming from Penn State, I felt that same vibe I felt at Penn State.”
And then, just like that, it was over. After a day off on Friday, the players are back in their day-to-day routine which is now built within the rhythm of a week-to-week, get-ready-for-the-game process. It’s Training Camp again and the grind is something that, now that they’ve gone through it for a couple of weeks, the rookies already understand.
“This is our jobs and we’re here because we love it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You just keep your focus on what’s right there. Don’t look ahead. That’s the biggest lesson about camp. It moves fast. You have to be ready for anything and everything.”