Eagles’ Mack Hollins hopes the extra work he’s putting in pays off in Year 2
Hollins averaged 20.5 yards per catch in the first eight games last season, but wasn't much of a factor after that. He;s working extra hard to change that this season.
Practice is over and Mack Hollins hurries off the field and heads straight for the Eagles' locker room, where he peels off his sweat-soaked jersey and pads, removes his socks and cleats and spends about 25 to 30 minutes relaxing at his locker.
Then, still barefoot, the hippy-dippy second-year wide receiver with the pet ball python and sunglow boa constrictor heads back out to the field for a daily 30-minute catching session.
Some days he'll spend the time fielding tennis balls thrown at him from close range by one of the team's ball boys. Some days he'll work on the JUGS machine catching footballs. Some days he'll do both.
"The motto is 'Catchers catch,' " Hollins said. "So, any chance I get to catch some extra balls, I'm going to take it.
"You never can get enough practice. I mean, you might go a whole practice and catch one ball. That's not enough to work on all the different hand-placement stuff and other things."
Most of the team's other players will get in a quick catching session right after practice, then head for the locker room. Hollins prefers to wait until everyone else is done.
"That way," he said, "I'm not 'that guy' who's holding up the line."
Hollins' work ethic doesn't surprise the Eagles' new wide receivers coach, Gunter Brewer. Before joining Doug Pederson's staff in the offseason, Brewer had spent six years as the co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at the University of North Carolina, where one of his prize pupils for four of those six years was none other than Hollins.
"That's just the way he is," Brewer said. "He comes from a great family. Military background. Very regimented. He's all about business. When it's time to have fun, he has fun. But when it's time to work, he works hard."
The extra work is paying off for the 6-4, 221-pound Hollins. The 2017 fourth-round pick had 16 receptions and averaged 14.1 yards per catch last season, which was the highest yards-per-catch average by an Eagles rookie since DeSean Jackson in 2008 (14.7).
Hollins was targeted 22 times as a rookie and had just two drops. In the Eagles' first 12 games, he caught 13 of the 14 passes thrown in his direction.
As the Eagles' No. 4 wideout last season behind Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith, Hollins played 25 percent of the offensive snaps. He also was one of the team's top special teams contributors.
Hollins' playing time – and catch opportunities – figure to increase this season, particularly if Jeffery, who is recovering from offseason rotator cuff surgery and has yet to practice, isn't ready to go by Week 1.
Smith is gone, but the Eagles signed another veteran wide receiver, 32-year-old Mike Wallace. Wallace had 124 receptions for 1,765 yards and eight touchdowns with the Baltimore Ravens the last two seasons.
"We have high hopes for Mack,'' said first-year offensive coordinator Mike Groh, who coached the Eagles' wideouts last year. "He was certainly a big part of what we did last year.
"Like all young players, we want him to elevate his game and continue to find his role and help us win football games.''
Hollins, who walked on at North Carolina, didn't seem to be fazed by much during his inaugural NFL season. But he said he has a much better grasp of Doug Pederson's offense and what's expected of him the second time around.
"The biggest difference for me is just knowing the playbook and having a better understanding of how things work and how coach Pederson wants things done,'' he said. "How practice rolls.
"I'm not as nervous about things like, am I going to play or not? What's an NFL game going to be like? It's a better feeling having done everything once and having a better knowledge of stuff.''
One thing the Eagles need from Hollins this year is consistency. His production level tailed off in the second half last year, particularly after Carson Wentz got hurt in Week 14.
Hollins averaged 20.5 yards per catch on eight receptions in the Eagles' first eight games, but just 7.7 yards per catch on eight receptions in their last eight regular-season games.
In the Eagles' three playoff games, Hollins had just one catch for 9 yards.
For whatever reason, Hollins pretty much disappeared from the pass offense once Nick Foles replaced Wentz. In 22 quarters with Foles at quarterback in the Eagles' final four regular-season games and their three playoff wins, Hollins was targeted just three times and had that one catch for 9 yards.
"Receivers catch balls,'' Hollins said. "It doesn't matter who's throwing them. You could be throwing them and I have to find a way to catch them.''
Hollins said he doesn't think his production dropoff had anything to do with hitting a rookie wall.
"I never felt one,'' he said. "I remember the guys joking about that. They were saying, 'Mack, you never hit a rookie wall.' Then, all of a sudden, I wasn't playing quite as well.''
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