Mack Hollins has heard the expression, “What a difference a year makes.” But now that he’s living it, he understands what it truly means. A year in time for Hollins has made, well, all the difference in the football world. A rookie last season, Hollins has a year under his belt as an Eagle and it’s showing on the field.
“Think about it,” Hollins said after practice this week at his locker at the NovaCare Complex. “I’ve been in the system for a full season and I know what’s going on. Last year, I was given information in the morning and then I’m on the field that day running routes. Knowing the offense now allows to me play faster. It’s a world of difference.”
That’s the way it is for all of the Eagles’ 2017 Rookie Class, who look to make even more of an impact in 2018. Here is an update on a group pushing to break into the lineup on many levels.
DEREK BARNETT, DE
A solid rookie season for Derek Barnett became even more impressive when it was learned that he was battling a groin injury late in the year, one that required surgery after the team won the Super Bowl. The truth is, Barnett was pretty beaten up after his rookie campaign, but he’s on the practice field now and figures to make a major impact in Year 2 as part of the defensive end rotation. Barnett has tremendous quickness and he plays with a non-stop motor. He’s going to be a factor in the defense.
Making the transition from college to the NFL at defensive end is as difficult as any position, but Barnett handled it well last year. Now we’re going to see him take a big jump. He lost time recovering from surgery, but Barnett seems to be ready to take the next step.
SIDNEY JONES, CB
Talk about taking the next step. Jones has been profiled here already, and with great expectation. He’s long and fast and he changes direction well and he closes on the football. He’s got all the tools. Sidney Jones is expected to be a significant player in the secondary.
RASUL DOUGLAS, CB
Not a whole lot is said about Rasul Douglas by the outside, but he’s making strides of his own understanding the defense and improving his technique. With Jones healthy, and with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills ahead of him on the depth chart, Douglas still has a ways to go to earn significant playing time. But he’s got length that allows the Eagles to match up with big receivers. Douglas can press at the line of scrimmage and he can turn and run. It’s going to be interesting to see how he factors into the rotation at cornerback.
MACK HOLLINS, WR
The Eagles signed Mike Wallace for speed. They have Alshon Jeffery and his size. Nelson Agholor is a beast in the slot. How does Hollins get on the field?
“I think if you just play your best football every day, things are going to work out,” Hollins said. “That’s my goal, to come in here every day and play good football and be better than I was the day before.”
Hollins is playing fast and he catches everything. The Eagles have so many personnel options on offense and Hollins is very much in the plans.
DONNEL PUMPHREY, RB
Frankly, it’s going to be very difficult for Donnel Pumphrey to crack into a deep running back group. The Eagles have Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles locked in. The fourth spot is up for grabs among Pumphrey, Matt Jones, and Wendell Smallwood. Until the pads go on, it’s tough to get a read on Pumphrey. He’s active in practice and he is a target in the passing game and he is very difficult to cover in space. Can he show the same traits when the action is live? We need to see Pumphrey in a preseason game or two to know how far he’s come in a year’s time.
SHELTON GIBSON, WR
The early returns are promising for Shelton Gibson, who says he’s catching the ball with a lot more consistency than he did a year ago.
“I struggled last year early and it just took me some time,” he said. “There’s no looking back for me now. I can only improve. I feel good about where I am and how I’m catching the football. I’ve put a lot of work into this.”
There is a lot of competition at wide receiver, where players like Markus Wheaton, Rashard Davis, and Gibson among others are competing for a fifth spot on the 53-man roster. This one is going down to the wire.
NATHAN GERRY, LB
The ACL injury suffered by Paul Worrilow gives Nathan Gerry extended reps in practice at the weakside linebacker position and he is taking advantage of them.
“My comfort level is a lot different than last year,” he said. “I know the defense. I’m not just running around out there. I know where I’m supposed to be. I’m faster and much more confident.”
Can Gerry become a factor at WILL with Mychal Kendricks released and Worrilow injured? We’re only in the OTAs and the pads aren’t on, so it’s not fair to judge defenders. Training Camp will provide the answers. But Gerry, right now, is in the mix.
ELIJAH QUALLS, DT
A year on the active roster was invaluable for Elijah Qualls, who is ingrained in the OTA rotation at defensive tackle. He’s soaking up great reps and experience and he’s a high-energy, strong interior defensive lineman. Tim Jernigan’s back injury and his status, which hasn’t been defined by head coach Doug Pederson, gives players like Qualls a chance to show what they can do. Again, Training Camp is the tell-all for Qualls and his fellow defensive players.
COREY CLEMENT, RB
Corey Clement is part of a diverse group of running backs and he’s going to be a big part of what the Eagles do on offense this season. Clement is in great shape. He’s confident. How much better will Clement be in his second season? He’s absolutely shown that he has all-around skills.
JAKE ELLIOTT, K
An outstanding early-season pickup from Cincinnati’s practice squad, Jake Elliott is a “one-kick-at-a-time” kind of guy. He’s got the big leg and has to be more consistent on his short kicks. Elliott is the kicker here with a new holder (Cameron Johnston is handling the duties) so the timing issue is one for the “operation” to perfect in this offseason.