Nelson Agholor's bedtime routine this spring included setting his alarm for 5:30 a.m. and scheduling a taxi to pick him up at his Philadelphia hotel at 6 a.m. The Eagles' receiver would arrive at the team facility by 6:15.
That was a full hour earlier than the scheduled 7:15 pickup of the rookie shuttle.
"That's where I get time to do most of my extra stuff," Agholor said at the end of minicamp last month. "It's not to do anything separate. It's my comfort level. It's not trying to separate [from other rookies]. But I feel comfortable preparing. It's something I can control."
This is emblematic of a work ethic that excited the Eagles when they selected Agholor in the first round of the draft this year, marking the first time the team selected a wide receiver that high since Jeremy Maclin in 2009. Maclin is a name Agholor has heard often since arriving in Philadelphia.
At the NFL combine, Agholor had measurements identical to Maclin's (6 feet, 198 pounds), and both were embraced for their maturity coming out of college. Coach Chip Kelly noted differences in their playing styles, with Maclin thriving as an outside receiver and Agholor having an ability to play both inside and outside.
Maclin might be the benchmark by which Agholor is eventually judged. The Eagles let Maclin leave in free agency even after he made 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season in Kelly's offense. That left a hole at wide receiver, and Agholor was the team's highest-profile acquisition at the position.
Agholor distanced himself from Maclin comparisons during the spring, and it might be unrealistic to expect a one-for-one match in playing time and production. Second-year receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff could both earn more time, and returning veterans Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, and Brent Celek will also contribute.
But Agholor impressed during the offseason program, and he returns to training camp on Sunday with high expectations - even if he has never taken an NFL snap.
"For me as a rookie, the coaches like to see me go out there and make full-speed mistakes, and not make the mistakes the next day," Agholor said. "Learn on the run. . . . We have a next-play mentality. But especially in practice, we embrace discomfort."
After the offseason program, Agholor returned to Tampa, Fla., his hometown. He trained at Performance Compound with former NFL receiver Yo Murphy, who has worked with Agholor since the player was a teenager. He noticed a difference in his student this summer.
Agholor does not like the unknown, Murphy said, and the predraft process is full of unknowns. The stability after the draft allowed for an "evolution," according to Murphy, because Agholor "knows where his feet are grounded."
Together, Murphy and Agholor spent three days each week working on football-specific skills. They went through route progressions, and Murphy introduced different scenarios so Agholor would understand how to react based on how the cornerback plays or where the safety moves.
"He should have a handle on exactly what Chip wants to do and the Eagles offense wants to do," Murphy said.
Agholor said he took detailed notes throughout the spring, returning to Tampa with enough of a background in Kelly's system that he could "regurgitate" what the Eagles wanted. He also became spellbound by the Eagles' off-field philosophies, so much so that he seems to speak from a Kelly manual.
"It's all about growing," Agholor said. "That's what I need to do a year from now, two years from now. We talk about progressing vs. regressing. These six weeks [before training camp], I need to progress every day. Even with my rest. If I'm going to take some time off, I need to make sure my body heals. Eating well, sleeping well, hydrating well."
Murphy called Agholor an "old soul" who will walk into the facility "like a four- and five-year vet who has a plan."
But even if Agholor might act or talk like a veteran, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll perform like one from his first day. Variables such as playing time, play calling, and personnel groupings could affect his statistical production.
"He has to understand he's not going to please everybody," Murphy said. "Just get to improvement every single day. That's the only way you can fight it."
Agholor fought it by trying to develop a routine. It included coming in one hour earlier than required during the spring and staying after practice to catch extra passes.
Murphy said he's had other players call about being late for a session because of traffic or other excuses, but Agholor always arrives early.
"When you have a guy who's going to do that, your teammates understand that and you're going to be accountable," Murphy said. "Because you're going to be in the right place on third and 8. And we can count on this guy not to jump offside. They know they have a guy who's committed to the process."