Nelson Agholor will get plenty of chances at redemption
They almost never say it as it's happening. If they did, they would be conceding defeat. But time offers perspective. Time heals. Time has allowed Nelson Agholor to reflect upon his rookie season and come to the realization that he wasn't whole.
They almost never say it as it's happening. If they did, they would be conceding defeat.
But time offers perspective. Time heals. Time has allowed Nelson Agholor to reflect upon his rookie season and come to the realization that he wasn't whole.
"I think I lost myself last year," Agholor said. "I started worrying about what I was doing. It didn't matter. I need to do it for us."
Us, of course, refers to the Eagles. In truth, Agholor said essentially the same thing last year about team goals superseding individual objectives. But it would have been nearly impossible for him not to want to justify being a first-round draft selection.
There isn't a barometer for what constitutes a successful first season for a top pick, but if there is one, Agholor barely popped up on it. The hope is that his struggles were customary for a rookie and partly related to a high ankle sprain. Aside from 2014's bumper draft crop, it typically takes receivers a few years to start peaking.
A year ago at this time, Agholor could hardly be bothered to stop and talk after practice. He wasn't trying to be rude - or at least it seemed that way - but after intense training sessions his primary objective was to reenergize his body and decompress his mind.
But he's been as accessible as ever this summer. Agholor hasn't been one of the first players off the field, whether he's staying afterward to catch extra passes or answer questions. He appears to be content.
"If this was Year 1 and I was coming off the field, I would be tired, frustrated," Agholor said Sunday after practice. "But I know now what I want to do when I come on the field every day in Year 2. I have a game plan. I have certain goals.
"And when I step on the field, my mind-set isn't on what others might be thinking, it's on my goals and my teammates."
Agholor's renewed focus may have something to do with an alleged June incident with an exotic dancer that led to sexual assault charges that were eventually deemed baseless. He owned up to his questionable decision-making and for staining the franchise. Agholor said two weeks ago that he considered the possibility that he may have fumbled his NFL career away.
Whether he came close to losing it all or not, having another opportunity to redeem yourself can be a great motivator. Agholor said that he doesn't have personal goals as far as traditional statistics go - as is his nature - but he does want to catch a higher percentage of passes thrown in his direction.
"My responsibility is something that relates to accountability," Agholor said. "So when an opportunity comes my way, I have a percentage of opportunities that I must focus on reaching so my team can move the chains and my team can do well."
Agholor caught 23 of 44 targeted passes (52.2 percent) for 283 yards and a touchdown. Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews, by comparison, caught 85 of 128 targeted passes (66.4 percent). Matthews had the benefit of playing in the slot, but Agholor's catch rate would have been the fourth worst in the league if he had enough receptions to qualify.
But considering the amount of snaps he played, Agholor hardly drew the attention of Eagles quarterbacks. Was it simply that he couldn't get open enough? Or was it that Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez felt more comfortable going to Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz?
The new Eagles coaches watched the film. Did they see a receiver who could develop into a depending option?
"The film that I saw last year, I saw flashes of it," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
But the flashes were clouded by mistakes - a fumble here, a penalty there, dropped passes everywhere. Agholor wasn't the only Eagles receiver to struggle in hanging onto the football last season. And he hasn't been the only one during camp. The Eagles are averaging about five drops per practice this summer.
"There are a lot of balls out there. Nobody's counting how many catches we got," said Agholor, who had another drop on Sunday. "To talk about something that's so minute in the big picture is silly to me. We're out here running great routes and getting off the ball. That's the first thing.
"And then you create separation and look it in. That's the finish and we all want to do it well, but we're not going to concern ourselves with it every time it happens."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he wasn't yet concerned about drops.
"A lot of them are contested throws, too, so they're tough catches," Pederson said. "There have been a few of those 'focus' catches where you turn your eyes away from the ball. It's not alarming. Guys are a little fatigued. The hardest thing is to fight against it."
Rueben Randle and Chris Givens, the Eagles' two free-agent additions, have been the most reliable receivers in camp. Matthews, who endured a difficult stretch last season, has been more sure-handed this year. He will once occupy the slot and, along with Ertz, likely lead the team in catches.
But Pederson will need production from his outside receivers. The Eagles tried the by-committee approach last year with Agholor, Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Miles Austin. If Agholor can't separate himself from Huff, Randle, and Givens this year - and it's likely he'll be given plenty of opportunities - Pederson may go the same route.
"I would love for that to be case," Agholor said.
But doesn't he want to be the guy?
"I want to be a great team player that wins football games. It's not just one guy. That's for somebody else. That's not for me. That's not what I want to do," Agholor said. "Even when I was in college, yeah, maybe it was about me being the headliner, but I was part of great units."