When Nelson Agholor sidestepped a Washington defender at the 20-yard line and trotted into the end zone backward on just the Eagles' third play from scrimmage of the season, it was obvious that 2017 was going to be different for the Eagles' receiver.
Agholor finished last year with 62 receptions for 768 yards and eight touchdowns, more in all three categories than his first two seasons combined. Now, he doesn't want to miss a beat. He plans to make this season even better and to build on the clutch catches and juke-move touchdowns that defined his 2017 campaign.
But his plans may have to wait a bit.
Agholor has missed five days of practice to date with a lower-body injury. He didn't play in the Eagles' first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 9 and will also miss Thursday's game at the New England Patriots. He isn't sure when he will be back, giving the responsibility for that call to the coaching staff.
"That's their call," Agholor told reporters at his locker Tuesday. "I follow their orders. And what I've got to do every day is make sure I come in here and make myself better and prepared and that's what I have been doing. I'm working hard and staying dialed in. ... As soon as I step into Training Camp, I'm making sure I put myself in the best shape possible mentally and physically to play in a game."
The challenge for Agholor is to keep a high level of communication with the quarterbacks so there won't be an issue when he returns to the field. His experience playing with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles certainly helps. But Agholor works every day to keep the chemistry fresh.
He said that getting extra physical reps is crucial for a player missing practice, but "mental reps" can be even more important when preparing for a game.
"I think what you do in that situation is make sure you have a lot of communication time," Agholor said. "You get extra throws on the sideline because all you want to do is see the ball come out of his hand. Obviously, game speed is different but relationships make up for game speed. When guys trust you, they give you more opportunities."
When he does get back on the field, Agholor wants to avoid being satisfied with last year's progress. He said that maintaining his level of production this season would be a regression.
"You have to get better each day and you've got to get better each year and I thought that every year I played in this league, I got better," Agholor said. "Now, I had a chance to take a substantial jump a year ago, but now it's time for me to get better again. It doesn't change."
Check out how the pass catchers are looking during 2018 training camp.
Agholor credited his high school coaches for instilling him with a mindset centered around constant improvement. He also specifically credited offensive coordinator and former wide receivers coach Mike Groh as well as current wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer for the recent strides he has taken. But there's no satisfaction from any of them.
"The only thing last season did was lay a foundation, something to build on," Agholor said. "It's great that we got a chance to see what the big game is like, do what we needed to do there, but that doesn't mean we're done. We laid the foundation, that is the expectation - to work hard and focus in so you can have a chance to be there."
The key to his progression is working with high-level talent. Last year, the Eagles added proven playmakers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. This year, Agholor has gotten to work with more veterans like Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton, and Kamar Aiken.
In addition to Wallace and Wheaton, Agholor mentioned Mack Hollins as someone who is increasing the level of competition in the wide receiver room. He has also developed a sort of rivalry with cornerback Ronald Darby as the two lined up against each other often in camp. He complimented the skill and leadership of Darby as well as cornerback Jalen Mills.
"We want the best of the best," Agholor said. "We want guys that are going to compete each day, and iron sharpens iron. Not only when you go against the defense but also in that wide receivers room. Those guys have a lot of knowledge so I take it upon myself to be humble and learn from those guys, watch the things that they do well and compete."
When the Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons in the regular-season opener on September 6, Agholor hopes to be back on the field and beginning his best season yet. The key to continuing this level of success in 2018 will be keeping the same mindset he had before each snap last year.
"It's fun to just play fast and have energy," Agholor said. "And you don't worry about mistakes because you're confident that you're going to make a play. Every time you line up, the only thing on your mind is, 'You're going to go make a play.' And your quarterbacks need that, your tight ends, running backs, everyone surrounding you needs you to have that energy because they need you to make a play and they need you to help them make a play."