Eagles

'In a better place,' Nelson Agholor has chance to show progress in Green Bay

'In a better place,' Nelson Agholor has chance to show progress in Green Bay

Last time the Eagles faced the Packers, Nelson Agholor wasn't even in uniform.

It was late last November, and Agholor was struggling so badly — seven yards in his previous two games, just 83 in his last five — that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson benched him when the Eagles faced the Packers at the Linc.

It was quite a blow for the former first-round pick, who had been a starter for two years.

"I respect the decision that Doug made," Agholor says now. "At the end of the day, Doug wants what's best for the team and myself and I appreciate whatever comes at me. Things like that happen and they make me hungrier."

Agholor didn't exactly finish strong — nine catches for 101 yards and a TD the final five weeks of the season. But the Nelson Agholor that will face the Packers Thursday night in the Eagles' preseason opener at Lambeau Field sure seems like a different guy.

"I think I have a good feel for my body and my awareness of the game right now," he said after practice Monday in the bubble. "I think I'm in a better place today than I was a year ago."

Agholor, now in his third year, has enjoyed a very good preseason, and one of the most intriguing questions facing the Eagles this summer is whether he can transfer that progress onto the football field on game day.

Thursday night is the first small step in that process.

"I've been building good habits and that's what's going to carry me come Thursday," he said. "The habits I've already built. My technique, my understanding and my speed for the game. That's what I want to show Thursday and let the plays come from that."

If Agholor can become a significant contributor to this team — still a big if — it will mark one of the greatest transformations in Eagles history.

Through two seasons, Agholor has only 59 catches for 648 yards and three touchdowns. But he's won over a lot of people inside and outside the organization with his unflinching work ethic, positive attitude and accountability.

"I really do think Nelson has gotten over the hump and had a great spring and a great training camp," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

"He's just making a ton of plays out there. I mean, we're always going to have a miss or two. Every position does. But we're very pleased with how he's playing.

"You know when he's on the field. I think the defense knows when he's on the field. He's been a threat."

But this is also likely Agholor's last chance. Because of his salary situation — it would cost the Eagles $2 million more under the cap to release him than keep him — he was essentially guaranteed one last chance.

That seems like a lot of pressure, but Agholor shrugs it off.
 
"I don't feel pressure," he said. "It's my job. My job is to focus. I'm hard on myself already. I like to be perfect.

"That's the thing about me. A lot of people want me to perfect also, but I want to be perfect. I want to be 10-for-10 in the game, catch 10 balls, no drops, that's great. But things happen and it's about bouncing back and responding. I can't let one play stop me because the next play that I catch might be the game-winner. That's my mindset.

"I've dwelled on it too long. Now I'm trying to make sure that I continue to have that next-play mentality. Because I know I'm a good receiver and I think I have great hands and when the ball comes my way, I'm going to pluck it."

How did Agholor get to this point?

He still hasn't done it on Sunday afternoons, but he legitimately does look like a different guy this summer.

"Preparation and hard work, man," he said. "It breeds results. The harder you work and the more prepared you are, (the more) you're able to play fast and you're able to get good results. I'm really excited about that and I want to continue to have those habits continue to carry me throughout the season."

Just about everybody agrees that the change in position coaches — from Greg Lewis to Mike Groh — has helped all the receivers but in particular Agholor, who always had the tools to be a good player but never could put it all together.

"Groh's always just been about wanting me to be a special player because he sees that in me," Agholor said. "So every day he coaches me hard and he expects nothing but greatness from me. I respect that from me so I try to respond every day.

"The game of football's tough, but it's for tough people and I'm a tough person. I haven't played the greatest football yet but I want to continue to work hard to play my best football. That's my mindset.

"It's just about playing fast and making plays and being prepared, and this offseason the only thing on my mind was hard work. Just work hard every day and I'm not stopping now. I started something and I'm going to finish it."

Eagles Injury Update: Jason Kelce storms off field

Eagles Injury Update: Jason Kelce storms off field

One member of the Eagles' offensive line returned to practice on Thursday, but another might be added to the injury report by the end of the day.

Starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski was practicing for the first time since hurting his ankle against the Rams on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether Wisniewski would be a full or limited participant, but it appears he will have a shot to play against the Giants this week.

Wisniewski exited Sunday's game in the first quarter and was unable to re-enter the contest. He was replaced by Chance Warmack, and later Isaac Seumalo.

Doug Pederson said Wisniewski was "doing good" when he last spoke on Wednesday.

Though Wisniewski was back, Eagles center Jason Kelce temporarily left practice on Thursday only to return shortly thereafter. It was unclear whether Kelce was injured, but his absence was preceded by a demonstrative outburst.

Kelce threw his helmet, then slammed a recycle container before storming out of the Eagles' practice facility visibly upset. The seventh-year veteran returned minutes later and was participating in drills toward the end of the media portion of practice.

Kelce was not on the Eagles' injury report as of Wednesday but was listed during the week leading up to the Rams game with an ankle injury.

In other returns, Eagles tight end Brent Celek was back on the practice field Thursday. Celek was excused from the previous day's practice to attend the birth of his child.

Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones was also a participant, showing no sign of setbacks from his first practice on Wednesday. The 2017 second-round draft pick has been on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a torn Achilles but is eligible for a spot the 53-man roster within the next 20 days.

2017 Nick Foles much different than 2013 Nick Foles

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AP Images

2017 Nick Foles much different than 2013 Nick Foles

Nick Foles' first career with the Eagles ended abruptly in a heap just outside the painted Texans logo near midfield in NRG Stadium. 

On Nov. 2, 2014 Foles dropped back to pass on the last play of the first quarter in Houston, when outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus came from behind and slammed Foles to the ground with his full 250-plus pound frame landing on top of him. 

Mercilus ran off the field, receiving high-fives from his teammates, as Foles laid on the ground in the fetal position. His collarbone was broken. Unbeknownst to him, he had already played his last snap as an Eagle.

Even without the injury, 2014 just didn't have the magic from the year before. The Eagles were 6-2 heading into that early November game, but Foles wasn't having the same type of Pro Bowl season everyone saw in 2013. He just didn't seem like the guy who amazingly threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions the year before and earned the starting gig. In 2014, Foles had already thrown 10 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns through those first eight games.  

As it turns out, the play in Houston wasn't Foles' last snap as an Eagle. He returned this offseason as the team's backup quarterback, but thanks to Carson Wentz's torn ACL, it's his job from here on out. 

Just don't expect Foles to be the same guy he was in 2013. Or in 2014, for that matter. 

He's a completely different quarterback and man these days. 

"I think with experience and age, you gain knowledge and wisdom," Foles said on Tuesday, the day after the Eagles announced Wentz was done for the season. "Obviously, life changes. You just sort of see the game more clearly. Even stepping into the game the other night (Sunday vs. Rams), you're in the fourth quarter, you're on the road, it's a big game. You really just go back to your training, you go back to your experiences in life. You know how to live in that moment, how to execute the plays to help your team win. 

"Since that moment in Houston, where I fractured my collarbone, I've experienced a lot more experiences in the NFL than I had up to that point. A lot of them great, some of them not so great. But they all go together to create this moment in time. I'm excited for this opportunity."

Foles didn't end up being the Eagles' starting quarterback for the "next thousand years" as Chip Kelly quipped in December of 2013. 

Foles was traded to the Rams in March 2015 as a part of the Sam Bradford trade and then signed a two-year extension with St. Louis. But things didn't go swimmingly with the Rams. In St. Louis, he played just one poor season, during which he was actually benched for Case Keenum. 

When the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, Foles was unhappy and wanted out. The Rams granted that request, releasing him in July 2016. Foles then signed with the guy who drafted him. He spent last season with Andy Reid's Chiefs as their backup. Foles played in three games and started one. And he actually played fairly well, but the Chiefs declined the second-year option on his contract, which made Foles a free agent for the second time in two years. This offseason, he came back to Philly. 

So, yeah, a lot has happened since the last time Eagles fans really saw Nick Foles. 

"I think he's definitely matured as a quarterback [in terms of] his leadership ability and his understanding of our offense and of defenses," said head coach Doug Pederson, who was gone by 2013, but was Foles' QB coach during his rookie season in 2012. "We always knew he was a very smart, intellectual quarterback and could process information. But he's been able to take it to the next level in his preparation. And just how he responds to the guys and how the guys have responded to him. A great example was in the fourth quarter of that game the other day. He comes in and nobody blinks. Nobody bats an eye. There was no hesitation and that's just the confidence that the guys have in Nick."

Perhaps one of the most important things to happen to Foles came this summer. Foles and his wife Tori welcomed their first child into their family. Daughter Lily was born in late June and there's just something about becoming a parent that seems to put everything into perspective. 

"Having a child, that's huge," Foles said this week. "I get to go home and hug my daughter. That's the greatest thing in the world."

So Foles isn't the same fresh-faced kid who became the Eagles' starter thanks to injury in 2013. He's not even the same guy who saw his first Eagles' career end in a heap in Houston. 

Foles is 28. He's a father. He's a veteran in the NFL. Maybe those things, more than anything else, make him more ready now to take over the starting gig than back in 2013. 

Foles was almost zen-like on Tuesday. He's mature, comfortable and confident. A lot has happened in a few years. 

"The wisdom and going in and playing, it almost just makes everything more simple," Foles said. "It clears your brain because you just go out there and play and let it rip. I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. 

"There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. That was a big reason why my wife and I sat down and the opportunity came up to come back here and be in this environment. Obviously, it was for a different role when I came here, but I'm ready to step up and help this team win."