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Patriots notebook: Nelson Agholor could provide much-needed boost at wide receiver

·4 min read
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PHILADELPHIA – The New England Patriots have an intriguing quarterback situation on their hands as Cam Newton aims to build on an uneven first season with the team while also trying to fend off first-round draft pick Mac Jones.

But regardless of how things play out behind center, New England needs playmakers to emerge. Gone is Julian Edelman, one of the Patriots’ leading wide receivers for the better part of the last decade. And Jakobi Meyers, the team's leader in receiving yards last year, has yet to record a touchdown catch in his first two seasons in the league.

Free-agent signing Nelson Agholor could wind up helping solve some of the Patriots’ deficiencies in this department. The seventh-year pro this offseason signed a two-year, $22 million deal with New England and appears well on his way to developing a rapport with both Newton and Jones.

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New England Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor (13) reacts during training camp at Gillette Stadium.
New England Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor (13) reacts during training camp at Gillette Stadium.

Agholor didn’t play in the preseason opener against Washington but made his presence felt as the Patriots held joint practices at Philadelphia Eagles headquarters this week in advance of Thursday night’s game at Lincoln Financial Field.

While going against the Eagles’ first- and second-team units, Agholor served as the go-to guy for Newton and Jones, finding holes in the secondary on short, intermediate and deep routes.

“It was fun. I'm out here to compete and grow,” Agholor told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I just work on my game, and that's a goal I've had in this league: to progress. I'm still going to work on my game. That's what I'm proud of and what I'm going to stay consistent about.”

Agholor has a bit of a history with the Patriots given his performance for Philadelphia in Super Bowl 52 in 2018. The 6-0, 198-pound wideout racked up eight catches for 84 receiving yards to help the Eagles defeat New England 41-33.

After signing a one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders last offseason, Agholor had a career year, recording 48 catches for 896 yards and eight touchdowns. Now the Patriots are counting on him further developing into a consistent threat for them.

“He's good to work with,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick recently said of Agholor. “He works hard. He's very detailed and wants to be detailed. Wants to do things the way that they need to be done and be where the quarterback needs him to be and with the right timing and so forth. Just got a good skill set and has been able to play a couple of different positions for us, as all the receivers have.”

Thin at tight end

The Patriots worked to upgrade their tight end group during the offseason, signing free agents Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in free agency. But they’re getting thin at the position after a rash of recent injuries.

Henry suffered a shoulder injury last week and is expected to miss a few weeks. Smith injured his ankle on Sunday and will miss some time. Dalton Keene, a third-round pick in 2020, is on injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery. And on Monday, Matt LaCosse was injured in a collision with Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett.

That means more playing time for second-year pro Devin Asiasi. The UCLA product opened camp on the COVID-19 list but now is the only healthy tight end on the roster. Fullback Jakob Johnson could see some action at the position until one of the veterans return or the team adds another tight end to the mix.

Van Noy back and motivated

Back for a second stint with the Patriots after a year in Miami, pass rusher Kyle Van Noy says he has much to prove.

Van Noy won two Super Bowls with the Patriots from 2016-19 then signed a four-year contract with Miami last offseason. But after getting released in a surprising move in March, the outside linebacker has returned to New England.

“It’s good to have familiar faces at work and in the organization and just having relationships,” Van Noy said on Monday. “At the end of the day I am here to work," he said. I’ve got a lot to prove for myself and I am just ready to go.”

Hindered by free-agent defections and COVID-19 opt-outs, the Patriots regressed on defense last season, particularly in a pass rush that collected just 24 sacks.

Van Noy aims to help the unit get back on track while teaming with fellow offseason addition Matthew Judon and young holdovers Chase Winovich and Josh Uche.

Van Noy brings much-needed versatility, and his veteran presence also should help bolster the defense.

“It certainly helps to have players with the experience,” Belichick said. “Then they just have to understand what the tools are and when to use which tool and make sure we're all on the same page with it. They can just do a lot more than guys with less experience for the most part.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New England Patriots: Nelson Agholor could help lift passing game