Nelson Agholor reached back and plucked the ball with his hands as if he were opening a can of Coke. It was natural. It was effortless. And it came against air.

But the 23,000 or so fans who likely caught their first glimpse of the Eagles receiver this year didn't care that his catch was uncontested. On Sunday, they gave Agholor the first of several ovations meant not just to acknowledge his performance but to encourage the former first-round draft pick.

"I loved it. It was amazing and I appreciated it," Agholor said afterward. "I really do because at the end of the day they're behind me because they're behind the Eagles. I'm a representation of the Eagles."

Agholor's first two seasons with the Eagles were a dubious representation of the team's receivers. As a rookie, he failed  —  fair or not — to live up to expectations. And last season, his regression embodied the sorry state of the position on the team.

But if Agholor's struggles characterized the Eagles receivers over the previous two years, then perhaps his turnaround  —  at least in terms of confidence  — will come to signify a resurgence in the group this season.

Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, signed as free agents in March, certainly bring a legitimacy to the unit. Their production on the field will ultimately shoulder much of that burden. But the veteran receivers have seemingly buoyed Agholor, who has followed his best spring with the most promising training camp start in his short NFL career.

And Eagles fans, at least the ones who attended the first open practice at Lincoln Financial Field, detected his improvement and displayed their support no matter how minor the accomplishment.

"A guy can only go through so much. I know [they] were rough on him last year," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "And he was hard on himself, too. People say our fans are hard. I think our fans are real honest.

"And I think that when it came out that mentally he needed to get in a better place, the city is going to take care of their own."

But this city has also eaten their own. If Agholor had dropped a pass, who knows what kind of reaction the error would have elicited. But it was almost as if the crowd knew that he would have a mistake-free practice. His body language alone is that of different receiver.

Agholor's teammates and coaches have seen it since he first reported to workouts in April.

"I thought he had a great spring," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said last week. "I think what everybody saw was true out here on the field and in the [meeting] room. So [I'm] excited about the confidence he'll be bringing into training camp."

Doug Pederson has said that the arrival of Jeffery and Smith, who are expected to start, took pressure off the 24-year-old Agholor. But the receiver said that raising the level of competition has been their greatest contribution thus far.

"It helps a lot. I've got a lot of respect for them," Agholor said. "I want them to know they can go to war with me. Alshon has been my big brother for a long time now. We're real close. When I step on the field I want him to know that whoever is guarding me I'm going to win that matchup because he feels he's going to win his matchup."

It would be difficult to not be cynical about an Agholor about-face. Two years is a relatively large sample. And one week of camp is comparatively small. And Agholor is unlikely to play the amount of snaps he played in his first two seasons  —  80 percent when he was active  —  when he averaged only two catches for 23 yards a game.

"My time will come regardless," Agholor said. "This is a long season. We have a lot of different things we need to do. And my versatility is going to help me out a lot, too, because I can play inside, outside."

All of the Eagles receiver spots are interchangeable, but Jeffery and Smith are slotted to play primarily on the outside, Matthews inside, and each receiver has specific routes to run on certain plays. But Agholor has shuffled through each spot more than any other receiver. He took most of Matthews' first-team repetitions when he missed three weeks in the spring with a knee injury.

Agholor's workouts began to kick into gear when he slid inside. He had been logging his drops on an eraser board in his locker stall for weeks, but the numbers declined after the move. He said he's keeping track in camp, but he has yet to have what could be considered a drop this summer.

"Those might come," Agholor said. "This game is about focus. Dropping the football isn't a technique thing. I can catch the football. It's about focusing at the point of attack."

During one-on-one drills Sunday, Agholor routinely beat cornerbacks with crisp routes. He first toasted Patrick Robinson with a double move. And then it was Ron Brooks. He made an acrobatic snag outside Rasul Douglas. The crowd erupted each time.

Agholor said his renewed confidence has come from a commitment to consistency. His goal is to respond to adversity as he would success.

"Sometimes when you're younger, you don't understand that the game has different aspects to it. There is adversity. There is opportunity but you don't always win," Agholor said. "The is the NFL. When guys get a pass breakup, you can't allow that to play on your next play or play on your mentality in the next time you line up."

But positive reinforcement can't hurt.

"The [boos] happened in the past. It is what it is," Agholor said. "But I'm focused on today and I loved the energy. And my plans are to build off this energy."