Self-Assured Agholor Plans Major Step Forward
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor attempted to put his disappointing rookie campaign in the rear-view mirror earlier this week at the Eagles' voluntary on-field OTAs.
The former first-round pick was expected to hit the ground running in Chip Kelly's high-volume offense but the Southern California product struggled to make the adjustment to the professional ranks in year one, amassing just 23 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown in 13 games.
Just how bad was Agholor's rookie campaign?
Of the 121 wideouts who played enough to be ranked by ProFootballFocus.com, Agholor came in dead last.
“I look at last season and I say, ‘I did not take advantage of a great opportunity,’ ” Agholor said after Tuesday’s practice session. “At the end of the day, that’s what I must do this year. I’m still in a position to take advantage of a great opportunity and that’s what I have to do.”
Through the team's first three practices open to the media Agholor has looked much more assured catching the football and seems more comfortable in his own skin. A move from Kelly's up-tempo offense to Doug Pederson's more traditional west-coast scheme may be part of the reason.
Considering the strength of Agholor's game coming out of USC was route-running, he's embraced a system which will provide many more variants as far as formations and running specific routes out of them.
“This year, the offense to me has done a great job in terms of getting guys in positions to execute different concepts, to execute against different coverages," Agholor said. "That’s what it is. We’re not just calling stuff, we’re calling stuff that is best for coverage, and you’re put in position to beat coverage whether it’s two-man, quarters, Cover-2, you’re not just running a route, you’re going to find a way to get open in this system. I love it."
The Eagles brought in a lot of receiving help in the offseason to push their talented but unproven young options, namely Agholor and third-year receiver Josh Huff. Rueben Randle, although out now after gall bladder surgery, is expected to in the mix, and Chris Givens and T.J. Graham will also be given opportunities.
But it's clear that Pederson and wide receivers coach Greg Lewis want the starters to be Jordan Matthews and Agholor.
“I’m a man,” Agholor said. “I’ve always been a man about what I do and how I perform. I would never, ever say anything that I didn’t truly believe. And I believe that (when) I put the tape on, there were times where I did not seize that moment. I don’t care how many times I was targeted, because if I caught every pass that came my way, that would mean more to me than if I was targeted 100 times and I caught only 40 percent of them. I need to make sure I have a high completion rate when I'm targeted and I didn’t do that.”
The no-excuses approach shows tremendous maturity by Agholor because there were plenty of crutches to lean on whether it was Kelly's rigid offense, the high-ankle injury or the issues at the quarterback position.
“A high ankle is no joke, especially for a guy like Nelson,” Matthews said. “You can tell when he runs routes and gets out of routes, it’s tap-tap-tap. When you take that away, that’s a strength that can not only do something to you physically but mentally, too.”
Agholor refused to play the blame game, however, and even bought a JUGS machine to use in the offseason to help him with the drops that plagued him as a rookie. Meanwhile, the ankle is now healthy, an offense in which all the receivers will get to move around to take better advantage of their skill sets is on the table, and the realization that the only place to go is up greets the former Trojans star as he rises and grinds each morning.
"I’m really optimistic about Nelson," Matthews said. "I know he knows he has something to prove but he’s taking it in stride.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen