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Improved Nelson Agholor leading to Eagles' optimism

When Carson Wentzfaltered down the stretch last season, his surrounding talent took the brunt of the blame.

The Eagles' anemic wide receiver corps, specifically, was singled out as one of the league's least productive units.

Eight months later, the once-beleaguered receivers have seemingly transformed from the team's Achilles' heel to one of the deepest positions on the roster.

Look no further than the slot, where a previously drop-proneNelson Agholor has excelled since camp opened. The 2015 first-round pick has been so impressive in separating from coverage that observers have been left to wonder how Jordan Matthews' role will play out this season.

Matthews remains the starter on the team's initial camp depth chart even as offensive coordinator Frank Reich acknowledges that the plan will be different than last year's.

Although coach Doug Pederson told reporters Tuesday that he doesn't foresee a reduced role for Matthews, at least one beat writer believes the Eagles have "already sold themselves" on Agholor as the No. 1 slot receiver. That sentiment comes days after NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah visited Eagles camp and ascertained that Agholor is destined for slot duties.

Philadelphia's brass insists Matthews is going nowhere, citing his chemistry with Wentz and historically productive first three NFL seasons.

Whether it's Matthews or Agholor in the slot, the primary takeaway from the first two weeks of camp is the increased talent level at the position. More than just competition for Matthews, the improved Agholor will also push Torrey Smith for snaps on the outside and provide insurance in the event of an Alshon Jeffery injury.

"Right now, the whole receiver room is more competitive," Reich added. "So yeah, I think it is a little bit different than last year."

Here's what else we learned on Tuesday:

Good luck stopping Tom Brady's loaded offensive attack this season. Since earning MVP honors in Super Bowl LI, Brady has welcomed back the most unstoppable tight end in history and wasted no time in establishing a rapport with speedy wideout Brandin Cooks and touchdown threat Dwayne Allen.

Returning from back surgery, Rob Gronkowski obliterated Jacksonville's defense for a staggering six touchdowns in Tuesday's scrimmage. As banged up as Gronkowski has been throughout his career, he has returned stronger every time.

Already hyped as Brady's best deep threat since Randy Moss, Cooks has been a one-man highlight reel since camp opened. Stepping in as Martellus Bennett's replacement alongside Gronkowski, Allen has already earned Brady's trust with "a ton of targets" in the red zone.

It's not simply the talent infusion that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. The Patriots' depth, versatility and creative play-calling will enable Brady to keep defenses guessing by switching alignments and personnel depending on matchups and game situation.

Preseason Week 1 status

  1. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis missed Tuesday's practice with a Baker's Cyst in his knee, per NFL Network's Stacey Dales. The team released a statement noting the health issue is "minor," perhaps allowing Lewis to return within a matter of days. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons will lead the team in the meantime.
  1. Coach Ron Rivera confirmed Tuesday that Cam Newtonwill *not* play in the preseason opener versus the Houston Texans, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network. On a positive note, though, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that it appears Newton has "gotten over the hump" after missing the past week of practices following offseason shoulder surgery.
  1. After telling reporters Monday that Jamaal Charles would play in the preseason opener, Denver coach Vance Joseph backpedaled on Tuesday. The plan now is for Charles to sit out Thursday's game versus Chicago, per The Denver Post. Broncos fans and fantasy drafters are understandably eager to see Charles in action after the four-time Pro Bowler missed the majority of the past two seasons with lingering knee issues.
  1. Kirk Cousins will be without three of his top four targets for Thursday's game versus the Ravens. Coach Jay Gruden has ruled out tight end Jordan Reed (toe) and wide receivers Josh Doctson (hamstring), Jamison Crowder (hamstring) for preseason opener. All three of the core offensive players are viewed as "day to day."
  1. Jaylon Smith "absolutely" will play in the preseason, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett insists. That said, it has yet to be determined if Smith will make his NFL preseason debut Saturday night against the Rams. Although Smith has exceeded expectations early in camp, Garrett will continue to handle the second-year linebacker with kid gloves.

"I think Jaylon's going to be around here the next 10 years," Garrett explained, via the Dallas Morning News. "We don't want to do anything that's not taking care of Jaylon."

  1. One player who certainly won't be making his debut with a new team is Branden Albert, who informed the Jaguars of his intention to return to the field after last week's abrupt retirement. Placing the veteran left tackle on the reserve/retired list, executive vice president Tom Coughlin made it clear that the team has no plans to welcome Albert back with open arms. As is often the case in sports (and life), this situation boils down to money -- specifically the signing bonus Albert would owe the organization if he remained retired.

Depth chart drama

NFL teams have begun to release their first unofficial depth charts of training camp, which naturally leads to a few raised eyebrows around the league. While the listed pecking order often functions as a snapshot of the coaching staff's current viewpoint on the state of the roster, it's important to keep this exercise in perspective. It's an obligation that many head coaches brush off as a borderline afterthought:

  1. For all of the lip service paid to the Jets' quarterback "competition," Christian Hackenberg has seen precious few practice reps with the first-team offense. It's interesting to note that Hackenberg is listed third on the depth chart, behind not only presumed starter Josh McCown but also Bryce Petty.
  1. Rookie Joe Mixon is fourth on the Bengals' depth chart at running back, behind Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and even special teamer Cedric Peerman. Although Mixon will have to earn his share of the workload over the next few weeks, he's fully expected to be in the mix for carries as early as Week 1 of the regular season.
  1. Handed $750,000 in guarantees on a $2.468 million contract, veteran Sean Spence is surprisingly listed as the fourth-team "WILL" linebacker on the Colts' depth chart. Beat writers have noted that Spence has begun fading from the picture at inside linebacker in recent practices.
  1. Former Bills coach Rex Ryan recently raved about linebacker Reggie Ragland as perhaps "the best player we had on our entire football team" prior to last summer's ACL tear. It's fair to wonder about Ragland's fit in new coach Sean McDermott's system, as the former Alabama star has been relegated to second- and now third-team work since camp opened. Might Ragland be a preseason trade candidate?
  1. Down a running back with converted quarterback B.J. Daniels nursing an undisclosed injury, the Falcons signed Kevin Taylor, son of Jaguars legend Fred Taylor. The younger Taylor is a long shot to make Atlanta's 53-man roster.
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