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."

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring, and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious, but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are – just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do every that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games, and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

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Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott has been granted another legal reprieve in the running back's fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking the league's suspension Tuesday night, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty's ruling comes five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court's injunction that had kept Elliott on the field this season.

Crotty granted the request for a temporary restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Fialla.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team's facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The Eagles visit Dallas in Week 11 on Sunday night, Nov. 19. They host the Cowboys in Week 17 on New Year’s Eve.