YOU LOOK AT Chad Hall and say, "No way."
No way he can possibly make the Eagles. No way this 5-8 runt wide receiver/running back/return specialist from the Air Force Academy will be on their 53-man roster when they open the season in a month against the Packers.
Undrafted free agents make NFL rosters. A lot of them have made the Eagles. Their starting strong safety, Quintin Mikell, was an undrafted free agent. So was center Jamaal Jackson. So was strongside linebacker Akeem Jordan.
But none of them spent 2 years after college fulfilling a military commitment. And none of them are 5-8.
"I'm doing everything I can to make this team," Hall said. "That's why I want to be as versatile as possible. I know it's a numbers game. If I can find a niche anywhere, I'm looking for that way to help this team out. That's all I want to do. Just help this team win games."
Hall did a little bit of everything in the Eagles' 28-27 preseason win over Jacksonville last night. Returned punts and kickoffs, played wide receiver and even lined up at running back for a couple of plays.
He had a 22-yard run around right end late in the third quarter out of a three-wide receiver, one-back set. Hauled in a 57-yard pass from fellow rookie Mike Kafka early in the fourth quarter. Was sure-handed on punt returns and was decisive on kickoff returns.
"We were going to give him the opportunity to play all the positions," head coach Andy Reid said. "I thought he excelled at all of them. He was a secure catcher on punts and made good decisions. He had a couple of nice catches. And he had a nice run. He had a good night."
Hall isn't naive. He knows he's fighting an uphill battle to make this team. He knows he has to make the most of every opportunity he gets in the preseason. And even then, it may not be enough. Even then, his best hope may end up being a spot on the team's practice squad.
"I'm concentrating every play," Hall said. "The more reps you get, the more comfortable you get at the receiver position. I'm not having to think as much when I go out there. I'm thinking about what I have to do before or the route or my steps. I'm just playing. From the OTAs and minicamps to now, that's the biggest change. I'm just [more] comfortable."
Hall is one of 10 wideouts in camp. The Eagles probably will keep only five, and four of those spots already are locked up by DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and impressive rookie Riley Cooper. Nine wideouts dressed last night (Hank Baskett was inactive). Hall and Jared Perry were the last two to get in.
The thing Hall has going for him, the thing the Eagles like about him, is his versatility. He played both wide receiver and running back at the Air Force Academy. He was the Mountain West Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 2007. Led his team in rushing and receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
Andy Reid loves having players he can move all over the formation.
"It's great," Hall said. "They try to get you the ball in space. Everything's spread out. I love that. Find the hole, read the coverage and catch the ball."
Hall spent the last 2 years working 10-to-12 hour shifts as a maintainance officer for the 421st Black Widow Squadron at Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City. He was second-in-command of about 250 people that maintained 28 F-16s. After his shift, he would drive to the University of Utah and work out.
"I knew I was going to have to serve 2 years," Hall said. "That's the Secretary of Defense policy. But [playing in the NFL] always has been my dream. I knew I could do it. I knew I was good enough to be out here. I just needed a chance, an opportunity. The Eagles gave that to me. I'm so thankful for that. Now I just have to go and take advantage of it."
Hall worked out for NFL teams in March at the University of Utah's Pro Day. Twelve hours after his workout, he signed with the Eagles.
Hall was impressive in the Eagles' padless spring OTAs and minicamps and the rookie phase of training camp, catching everything in sight. But he hasn't been nearly as sharp since the hitting began.
"I'm durable," he insisted. "I used to get 30, 35 touches a game [in college]. I don't worry about that. I'll stick my nose into any place."
But you're not in the Mountain West Conference anymore, Toto. The licks are 10 times as vicious in the NFL as they are in the MWC. It's the difference between getting run over by a
Segway and an Escalade.
Hall seeks inspiration from the success stories of other undersized players, like Chargers running back Darren Sproles, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and the Steelers' 5-6 return specialist Stefan Logan.
"You look at guys who help your cause like them," Hall said. "Just the last couple of years, seeing them, I'm thinking in my head, there we go. There's another one. Just proving it can be done."
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