There were some nerves and, yes, there was some rust to knock off and by the time Chad Hall completed his first on-field activity in two years (pads or no pads) he was a football player again. A real, live football player for the first time in two years, for the first time since he was all-Mr. Everything at Air Force.
"Mini-camp was great. I loved it," said Hall, the tiniest of the Eagles' long-shot candidates to make the 53-man roster. "Every rep is going to help me. Every time I'm on the field, I'm going to get better and better. I felt a lot better on Day 3 than I did on the first day. Yeah, there were some nerves maybe, but most of it was because I hadn't played much receiver in my career in college. I was mostly a running back, and all of a sudden here I was at wide receiver."
Oh, he was a wide receiver, all right. Hall looked very comfortable, very quick, very sure-handed and confident and so if he had butterflies bouncing around in his stomach, he masked them well. Hall lined up outside, and he lined up in the slot, and every time he got off the line of scrimmage he did so with a tremendous burst.
Now, let's be honest here as we make sure not to get ahead of things: The hard part for Hall -- and for every player here -- comes when the pads go on, and the defensive backs can play bump coverage and get their hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage and attack the slicksters on the offensive side of the ball. Truth be told, if you can't look good in a non-contact, no-pads spring practice, you have no business being on an NFL roster right now.
But for Hall, who was signed prior to the draft after a lights-out performance at a University of Utah pro day workout, the performance was more than just a step in the right direction. He is here to do more than prove he belongs. He is here to win a job.
"I'm trying to just get better every day and to focus on that, but in the back of my head I know I'm here competing for a roster spot. My situation ... I mean, I think one of the biggest things I have to use to my advantage is my versatility," said Hall. "Returning kicks, anything I can do on special teams, playing receiver and hopefully getting some third-down opportunities. The more versatile I can be, that's one way I can really help this team."
Hall has been welcomed here as any player has been welcomed. He is being given a shot, and he is taking full advantage. Hall is operating in a crazy, crazy world right now, reporting to the NovaCare Complex early in the morning, working out as much as possible on his own -- cold tubs to start the day to wake up his body, lifting, conditioning, running routes against air, catching 100 balls a day off of the machine with his partner, Jason Avant, studying the playbook -- and then heading home to the apartment he shares with punter Durant Brooks. That is the routine Monday through Thursday, and then Hall hops on a plane and heads back to Salt Lake City for his military responsibilities.
He has one weekend remaining in that phase of his life as the second in command in his phase of the Air Force. He is in charge of about 250 people and 28 jets. Hall is to make sure that the pilots get their sorties every day and "get up in the air every day, so we have to make sure their jets are ready every day." Hall makes sure that all of the maintenance protocols are followed every day, and that his troops are "doing the right thing."
He leaves Philadelphia on Thursdays and lands in Utah in late afternoon and, if needed, goes right to work. He works all day Friday and Saturday and he returns to Philadelphia on Sunday night to be a professional football player again.
"The football part of it is very difficult, obviously, but it's a much shorter day and it really has me pumped. Every little thing counts in my life -- what I'm putting in my body, the amount of sleep I get. Back there, it's a 12-hour work day, then I work out and then I go to bed. Here, it's all football. I have more time to think about my assignments, because I know the coaches will not tolerate mental mistakes. If I run a route and slip, that's one thing. If I line up wrong, that is unacceptable."
Hall showed his skills in the post-draft camp by catching every ball thrown his way. He made a leaping grab in a red-zone drill that drew oohs and aaahs from the media assembled. Head coach Andy Reid spoke highly of Hall afterward.
"He made a play out there today. He's a unique story. He's not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy; tremendously quick and strong," said Reid. "Having been in the Air Force, he really hadn't played a whole lot the last couple years. Then if you look at his last year at the Air Force Academy, I believe there were four or five games there where he played wide receiver; he had been a running back. Then he comes back and plays running back and (rushes) for 1,400 yards after missing five games.
"He's a pretty talented kid and we'll just see how he does as time goes on here. It's a new system for him to learn and all that. (He's a) sharp kid and we'll see how he does."
He's doing just fine, thank you. At 187 rock-solid pounds, Hall is in great shape. He's not very tall at about -- eying him up, and not paying attention to the media guide listing -- 5 feet 7, but height can't measure desire or toughness or production.
Next week, the Eagles hold an Organized Team Activity for rookies and selected veterans and Hall is excited. He will have finished his military obligations and can then focus on making the Eagles a full-time job.
"We won't have as many players here, so I'll get more reps and I'm looking forward to that," he said. "Anything I can do. I need to go talk to Coach (Marty) Mornhinweg (offensive coordinator) and see if I can help as a running back, third downs, anything. I feel like I'm where I want to be. I'm doing everything I can to make this team and I'm having a great time here."
Whether Hall makes the team or not, we won't know for many weeks. The margin for error on this roster is slim with a really good group of wide receivers already in place, with veteran Hank Baskett here as a free agent, with Riley Cooper as a rookie draft pick, with some young players like Jordan Norwood and Dobson Collins armed with one year already in the system.
Hall is not daunted. Who cares about the odds? He is a football player again, finally, and that is the greatest feeling of all.