Agholor is Eagles second-half hope
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Chip Kelly is on record saying drops are the biggest reason for the Eagles' offensive struggles this season.
While others -- most notably running backs Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles -- have contributed to the NFL's least sure-handed team, the receivers have been the biggest problem because that's where the drops have bred with a lack of production.
In fact, Philadelphia's wideout group has been one of the worst in all of football, highlighted by a limited, high-volume slot option in Jordan Matthews, and supported by a trio of pedestrian options like Riley Cooper, Josh Huff and Miles Austin.
The one player with the skill set to turn things around and develop into a consistent producer for Sam Bradford is rookie Nelson Agholor.
Yes, the 20th overall pick was as big a disappointment as every other Philadelphia receiver before the bye until a high-ankle sprain against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 11 sidelined him.
The presumptive replacement for Jeremy Maclin returned to practice this week and is eager to prove his early-season struggles are behind him in Dallas on Sunday night.
"I gotta help Sam (Bradford) out," Agholor said at his locker after practice on Wednesday. "I gotta be his best matchup, and I gotta create separation. If I'm not doing that, he can't feel comfortable going to me."
About the only receiver Bradford looked comfortable with at Carolina was the veteran Austin, who simply can't handle a full-time role at this stage of his career.
Agholor, on the other hand, has a significant ceiling as a player and showed up in Philadelphia as a pretty polished product out of Southern California. However, he's struggled getting away from press coverage and, like all the other Eagles' receivers, wasn't catching the football consistently enough before the injury.
So far Agholor has managed just eight catches for 105 yards in his first NFL season but his return is important because the rookie is the lone receiver the Eagles have with the speed and route-running ability to stretch the defense.
"At the end of the day, I've got to work harder," Agholor said. "That's all it comes out to. No matter how hard I think I'm working, I gotta push a little bit more, because it's in my power. Especially if it's man-to-man, I gotta find a way to create separation."
The fact that Agholor was thrown in the deep end of the pool and expected to swim right away may not have been the best-case scenario for the first-year player but it was a need-based solution because the Eagles desperately need talent and production outside the numbers and the rookie is the only name on this roster who could fit the bill.
"I think he's done a nice job getting acclimated in terms of what we're doing." coach Chip Kelly said. "I think the injury has set him back. He was starting to kind of pick it up. He had a couple big catches in the Washington game for us: the one-hander on the post route and caught a big out route on our sideline. Then he got banged up.
"I think he was just starting to kind of come in, get real comfortable with how the league is and what the matchups are each week and the challenges that he's going to face each week. Then he got hurt."
Now that Agholor has his sea legs under him at this level and is healthy again, Kelly will give the rookie every opportunity to finish strong in the second half of the season.
"We're anxious to get him back," the coach said.
"I don't pay attention to first half/second half," Agholor added. "Every day, I'm trying to get better than I was the day before. If the second half (of the season) is going to be favorable to me, then I'll be happy, but tomorrow has to be better than today was."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen