Nelson Agholor not in line to fill Jordan Matthews’ void

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PHILADELPHIA – Eagles coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterback Carson Wentz all had the opportunity to extol Nelson Agholor as Jordan Matthews’ successor as the slot receiver.

None of them did. 

When Wentz spoke to the media on Saturday, he mentioned, umprompted, tight end Trey Burton as a possible replacement for Matthews, whom the Eagles traded to the Buffalo Bills last Friday.

Wentz didn’t mention Agholor until he was asked specifically about him.

“Nelson has done some good things,” Wentz said. “Obviously, that’s a coach’s decision as to who’s going to step up. … It’s kind of been talked a lot this offseason in camp, and obviously, he can fly. He can roll in the slot and kind of put some pressure on some defenses.

“Like I said, Trey can do some things, and we’ve got some younger guys who have shown some promise as well. So in that regard, we feel confident that hopefully someone can step up.”

That’s a not-so-subtle indictment of Agholor’s potential, considering his disappointing play the past two seasons. Agholor, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2015, appears to be stuck behind free agent signees Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith on the outside, leaving the slot as his best hope for playing time.

Agholor is determined to show he can produce. He had a spirited duel with safety Malcolm Jenkins during a goal-line drill Monday. Agholor cut inside twice and caught both passes as the two jawed back and forth at each other.

On a third play, Jenkins, clearly upset, got physical with Agholor off the line of scrimmage, then reached in and knocked the ball away.

“It’s just competition, man,” Agholor said later. “We’re just trying to get better every day.”

Jenkins wasn’t available to the media after practice. Fellow safety Rodney McLeod noticed the competition.

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“That’s just two great players just competing, wanting to win,” McLeod said. “Iron sharpens iron, and they’re only going to continue to get better. Nelson is getting Malcolm better, and Malcolm is getting Nelson better.”

But skepticism, at least among the fan base, abounds. Agholor, for example, got a round of applause for catching a deep pass while undefended during a drill Monday.

In Thursday’s preseason opener at Green Bay, Agholor was targeted only once. A high pass on a two-point conversion attempt sailed through his hands.

When asked if he expects a bigger role now that Matthews has been traded, Agholor said: “I’m staying in my lane and trying to get better every day.”

Pederson and Reich mentioned several other slot possibilities, including rookie wide receiver Mack Hollins, running back Darren Sprole, tight end Zach Ertz and rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey.

“Obviously, it will start with Nelson,” Reich said. “But he’s got to step up and he has been doing that. But so have the other guys.”

Burton signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013, more for helping on special teams player than on offense. Last season, as the third-string tight end, Burton had 37 receptions, one more than Agholor, who played 78 percent of the snaps.

“I think some of the things that Jordan [did] in there, Trey can fill that role,” Reich said. “I think Mack can fill that role in some other spots and we’ll see who else can step up in that role. But Trey definitely proved last year that he’s a playmaker. Carson has a lot of trust and confidence in Trey. He wants him in the game; he likes when he’s in the game.”

Burton, who’s 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, played some slot last season, especially during the two games Matthews missed with an ankle injury.

“It’s not that big of an adjustment,” Burton said. “I always try to take advantage of all the opportunities that I get … If Coach wants me to play more slot, then so be it.”

Hollins, who’s 6-4, is a big target similar to Matthews. And Hollins certainly impressed the Eagles last Thursday when he caught a pass over the middle and stiff-armed two Packers defenders on his way to a 38-yard touchdown.

All of that could leave Agholor as part of a committee.

“It’s a game-plan thing,” Reich said. “Each and every week, when we put a play up, it’s what body type do we want in there for this play? Is it a crossing route where we want a bigger body type? Is it going to be one of these scat-back things where we want a little more fast twitch? Then you put someone like Nelson in there; It is a speed route? 

“So it will be by committee, by play, each and every week by coverage. Those things all factor in.”

Wing tips

Backup quarterback Nick Foles returned to practice Monday, but on a limited basis, after missing more than two weeks with an elbow injury. Foles said he’s being worked in slowly, and won’t play Thursday in the Eagles’ preseason game against Buffalo … RB Wendell Smallwood also returned to practice Monday after missing the previous week with a hamstring injury … WR Alshon Jeffery took part in team 11-on-11 drills for the first time in nearly two weeks. 

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

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