Rookie minicamp is a wonderful thing, Chad Hall believes.
"I probably annoy people, always slapping their butts, always talking - it's paradise out here," Hall said yesterday, on what surely was a lovely spring afternoon at NovaCare.
Hall, who turns 24 on Sunday, is practicing football in a team setting for the first time in 2 years. Since graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2008, Hall has been on active duty, as a second lieutenant. The Eagles signed him to a free-agent contract in March, anticipating Hall's May 27 shift from active to reserve status, which will allow him to play in the NFL.
Since signing, Hall has been commuting between Philadelphia and Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, where he is assistant commander for maintenance with the Black Widows, the 421st Fighter Squadron, responsible for keeping 28 F-16s airworthy.
"I get here Sunday night," Hall said. "I spend the week here. Thursday after practice, I'll fly back and [possibly] go straight in to work right then, Thursday night when I get there, and then work Friday and sometimes Saturday. Then fly back Sunday."
"I'm just making sure that the jets every day are safe and ready to fly, so that our pilots can get their sorties, get their missions, to be prepared when they go over [to Afghanistan]."
Shifts last 12 hours, he said. "It's long and it's important," Hall said. "It's fun. It's a real 'people' job. I've got so many people [about 250] - I've got to make sure they're doing the right things."
By comparison, the rookie camp days are a breeze, Hall said. He's always looking for more to do after the 3 hours on the field.
Hall, 5-8, 190, has looked speedy and shifty at wideout and punt returner in the two minicamps so far. He was kind of a wingback for the Air Force, running for 1,478 yards as a senior in 2007 and catching 50 passes for 524 yards. He has mostly been a wideout so far for the Eagles, though he did catch one pass out of the backfield yesterday.
"I can do it - I can get in the books," Hall said, when someone wondered how tough it would be to learn both positions, in the Eagles' complex offense. "That's something I can do on my own. I want to make sure I'm ahead of the game on that. I just want to make sure I'm as versatile as I can [be]."
The Eagles used to have a guy named Westbrook, about Hall's height, who was a pretty good receiver out of the backfield, among other things. Hall doesn't have Westbrook's muscular build - though he says he's up 10 pounds from his college weight - and it's unlikely the Eagles will ask him to run the ball much. If Hall lines up as a back at all, it probably will be on third-down passing situations.
Hall's path to the Eagles was complicated. As he graduated, the academies were reviewing their policies on how much of athletes' service commitments needed to be spent on active duty. Hall was passed over in the draft, though he was the Mountain West Conference's offensive player of the year.
"It was a whirlwind," Hall recalled. "There were three of us [at Air Force] who were definitely going to have the opportunity to go make a team. [Pentagon officials] were just back and forth - 'you can go, you can't go.' They told us we can, then a week before the draft, they said we can't. Then, a week after the draft, they said we can. They ended up saying we couldn't [serve the entire commitment on reserve]."
"It worked out great," he said. "Those 2 years were great for me . . . I got to serve my country and I think I grew a little bit."
Hall worked out with Buffalo and Atlanta, actually signing with the Falcons, while trying to define his status. He was cut, and began serving, while exercising on his own when he could. Last year, Hall finally got squared away on when he could go to the Reserve. He targeted Utah's pro day, March 8, securing permission from coach Kyle Whittingham to prepare at the Utes' facility.
"The last 9 months, until my pro day, it was going to work 12 hours, going straight to run and lift, and then going to sleep. I didn't have much of a social life, but it was all I wanted, it was my dream," he said. "It was hard to get a quarterback to throw to me, and stuff like that. Every rep out here, I really take advantage of, every ball in the air . . . Every practice I feel like I get better and better, more in the mix. I think that's all the rookies out here, though."
There were times during his active commitment when he wondered if he would ever get such a chance, he said.
"It was tough to stay motivated. I had a couple people in my life really pushing me - I'd give a call on the phone, mostly family. That was the toughest part, just staying motivated."
Now that he is leaving active duty, Hall won't take part in his unit's planned deployment to Afghanistan this fall. He has former teammates and other friends from the academy who are serving or have served there, he said.
"It's usually a 6-month tour for them. I pray for them every day," Hall said. "I keep 'em posted, a bunch of my friends I was on the field with every day. This was all of our dream; we're a big family . . . It's a great feeling to be out here, but they're with me. I feel like I owe them, too."
It's interesting that Moise Fokou is in this camp, which resumes Monday. Not totally surprising, in that Fokou is being penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker right now off just four starts at that position as a rookie, but interesting. Fokou presumably will have to fend off at least a couple of rookies - fourth-rounder Keenan Clayton and fifth-rounder Ricky Sapp. Former starting WIL Akeem Jordan could factor into the mix as well, assuming Ernie Sims is now the starter on the weakside.
"[Clayton and Sapp] are going to come in there and compete with me. It's the NFL, it's competition," Fokou said. "I just have to win it out."
Fokou, smallish for the position (listed at 6-1, 236, he looked last season as if he'd need to be wearing several sets of shoulder pads to hit that weight) was coy about his current size. He looks bigger, and he said the free-weight intensive workouts supervised by new head strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin have made him stronger.
"Definitely getting in here for 3 months and working out with Barry and running around, I feel a lot stronger, a lot faster. I'm just anxious to get on the field and see how it relates," he said. "It feels like kind of a power-lifting mentality out of the weight room [now], to kind of get you explosive out of your hips and out of your legs . . . It's definitely refreshing."