Everything felt the same, as odd as that sounds for someone who hadn't suited up for an NFL game since February 4, 2018 in Super Bowl LII, the most significant game in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles. Wide receiver Mack Hollins went through his normal pre-game paces, loosened up the way he always did through his career at the University of North Carolina and his rookie season with the Eagles.
And then it was game time. And there was Hollins making a catch for a 5-yard gain and running down in punt coverage and dominating.
Just like old times, but in a new time that between games felt like a lifetime of recovery and rehabilitation.
"It means a lot. It was a long journey," Hollins said after Thursday night's preseason game in Jacksonville. "Unfortunately, it's been a little while since I've been out here, but it was awesome being out there with my teammates, running around, feeling good."
It isn't fair to call Hollins' return to action a "baby step," because those really aren't permitted in the NFL. You're either in or you're out in this league and, for all of the 2018 season, Hollins was out after suffering a groin injury that required surgery and that, ultimately, landed him on Injured Reserve. Even after missing the season, Hollins had his ups and downs recovering through the spring and into Training Camp. Not until recently has Hollins been able to go full speed day after day in camp.
Now, after passing a first preseason game test, Hollins is very much in the thick of the wide receiver competition.
"There can't be a drop-off. That's part of this business," Hollins said. "I had a year off, but I can't make excuses for not making plays. I've got to be right back like everybody else."
The Eagles have a deep wide receiver corps and it's fair to expect Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to make the 53-man roster. After that, it's an open competition. Hollins caught 16 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season and he was an important part of Dave Fipp's great special teams unit, so he is right there pushing for that fifth – and maybe sixth wide receiver slot – on the roster.
The players don't count numbers, they just focus on playing great football every day. Now that he's healthy again, Hollins is looking to keep his positive momentum going.
"I feel great and I'm glad to be back out there," Hollins said. "I just want to keep playing football and getting myself better and better."