Suddenly, Nelson Agholor is looking around the huddle at practice and, in his fifth Eagles season, he’s the veteran.
He’s got Mack Hollins on one side and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on another side. Agholor is the alpha in this group, and he’s embracing the role as the Eagles still don’t have clarity on the status of veteran wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (calf) and DeSean Jackson (abdomen), neither of whom practiced on Thursday.
“I’ve learned from some great leaders in my years here – Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, Alshon Jeffery – and you always want to pass on what you’ve learned. You’re going to need everybody in this locker room at some point in the season,” Agholor said. “That’s just the way of the world in this league. Injuries are going to happen. You’re going to be put into some uncomfortable situations. How you handle those moments is what defines you in the NFL.”
So, yeah, this is a tough moment for the Eagles: Jeffery has a calf injury and hasn’t practiced this week. DeSean Jackson has an abdominal injury and hasn’t practiced this week. If those two can’t go against the Lions on Sunday (1 p.m. on FOX), the Eagles, barring any roster additions, would have Agholor, Hollins, and Arcega-Whiteside playing against a Detroit secondary that wants to play mano a mano and challenge receivers to get open. That’s not exactly how the Eagles drew it up throughout the roster-building portion of the offseason and preseason.
Not that anyone in the league is feeling sorry for the Midnight Green right about now.
“We’re here to do our jobs and we’re going to do our jobs,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “We’re here for a reason. I feel like, if it comes down to it and I’m playing a lot on Sunday, I’m prepared. I’m ready. I’ve been working for this moment every day since I was drafted. I know my assignments and I know what I have to do to get open and catch the football and make plays. That’s my responsibility every week, whether I play a lot or not.”
Hollins, who missed all of last season with a sports hernia injury after helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII in his rookie season, caught five passes in Atlanta and said he’s back, he’s healthy, and he’s excited to be part of the offensive game plan and the special teams.
If Jeffery and Jackson can’t go, Hollins is going to get another heaping dose of game reps.
“I kind of just played ball again,” Hollins said. “I don’t think I’ve had that many snaps (69 on offense in Atlanta) since college, really, playing special teams and offense. It was really cool. This whole last week, I’ve prepared to play. I’ve been running and running and running. What’s really nice about this week versus last week is maybe expecting to play a little bit more if I can be, and being ready for that role, versus last week not having that expectation.
“The chemistry is there. That’s one thing that Coach (Mike) Groh (offensive coordinator) and Coach (Doug) Pederson (head coach) always said, ‘Be ready as if you’re a starter. You’re one play away from being a starter.’ It’s good that we have a few days to work together but that chemistry is already there.”
It’s going to be fascinating to see how the offense is structured if the Eagles don’t have some of their main weapons on the field, and that includes tight end Dallas Goedert (calf), who missed Sunday’s game in Atlanta and who has not practiced this week either. If it’s Agholor, Arcega-Whiteside, and Hollins carrying the receiving load on the outside, the Eagles want to play to their strengths – Agholor as the do-everything man from the slot, Arcega-Whiteside as the big-bodied possession receiver, and Hollins as the outside stretch-the-field threat. The scheme and the playcalling and, for sure, the execution is going to be so critical in this one.
The challenge here is very real. Nobody is here to sugarcoat a thing. Depth is being tested early in the season.
“When one guy goes down, another steps up. We’ve all learned that lesson,” Agholor said. “I see a bunch of guys working hard and improving every day. I’m excited no matter who’s out there. These are talented players and they all bring their skills to the table. I don’t have a doubt that we’ll play our game no matter who is catching the football. That’s just how much confidence I have in everybody on this football team.”
This is a “We all we got, we all we need” kind of football game. In Week 3, with the Detroit Lions in town, the Eagles don’t yet have a firm grasp on who’s playing where and when. It’s all so fluid. It’s all so vital. The Eagles need this one, need it badly, and they’re moving together as a group understanding just how stressed the roster depth is going to be.
“None of that matters to me,” Agholor said. “We will play who will play and then we’ll get after it. It’s going to be fun out there.”