It began on Monday with Anthony Patch, the Eagles' assistant director of college scouting, stationed at the Pro Day for the University of Utah and it ended on Thursday when the Eagles signed wide receiver Chad Hall. During and between those days, the Eagles engaged the pure process of scouting, of player evaluation, of trust within a personnel department. This is the story of how the Eagles signed Hall, who until now was a relative blip on the NFL radar ...
As a senior at Air Force, Hall was an unstoppable offensive force. He accounted for 2,683 yards and 16 touchdowns as a running back (1,478 yards), receiver (524 yards) and return man and was, of course, filled with all the intangibles you expect from an Academy man. The NFL was a dream, and Hall had a tryout with Atlanta, his hometown team, before starting his two-year commitment to the military.
While serving as a second lieutenant at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, Utah, Hall continued to work his body, keeping in mind his goal of playing in the NFL. But not until he showed up on Monday at Utah did the league even register a blink in his direction.
What happened from then until now, though, has made up for those two years of secret workouts and self sacrifice and from a team standpoint, the Eagles put into motion the wheels of their personnel department, headed by general manager Howie Roseman.
"This only happens because we have a head coach and a general manager who actually trust their guys out in the field, and who follow through with the recommendations of those scouts," said Ryan Grigson, the Eagles' director of player personnel. "It's not like that at a lot of places. We preach digging out talent, no matter what level of competition it is, no matter the size of the school. We grade the player, not the school. If you have talent, no matter the venue, we want to find you. Talent is talent.
"Patch was the main player in this. He was our 'eye' out there. He was at that pro day, and he has enough eye confidence to shrug off the fact that the kid hadn't played in two years. Patch trusted what he saw and he came across loud and clear with his passion about it and got us all fired up."
What Patch saw was a player who lacked ideal size -- Hall is 5 feet 8, 180 -- but who displayed fantastic quickness, excellent body control and enough wide receiver skills to merit close scrutiny. Patch was one of about 20 to 25 scouts from NFL teams assembled at the Pro Day who took notice of the prospects mostly from Utah and Brigham Young.
For Patch, Hall's performance was good enough to relay a strong recommendation to Grigson and Roseman.
"The shuttle times were outstanding. His short-area drills, all the footballs he caught, he did exceptionally well. He looked really good," said Patch, who credits Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham for allowing Hall to take part in the Pro Day. "His three-cone drill time was probably one of the fastest I've ever timed (6.36), his 60-yard shuttle was good (10.70) and his short shuttle (4.0) was strong. As a return guy, his vertical speed isn't at the level of somebody like a Darren Sproles (Chargers) or Mike Logan (Steelers), but his short-area speed is outstanding with those times.
"They put himself through some receiving drills and his skills matched up with anyone there. He has obviously been working on his game in the last two years."
The Eagles had written a report on Hall prior to the 2008 draft after his stellar career at Air Force. They also knew the track record on players who had good college careers who then served their military duty for two years was pretty good. Grigson mentioned Chad Hennings as a success story; Hennings played at Air Force and then joined Dallas as a 27-year-old rookie. He enjoyed a nine-year NFL career.
After Patch's recommendation, the Eagles watched Hall intently on tape, pulling out games to watch from the 2007 season.
"After watching the tape, we saw his quickness, his athletic ability, his toughness and his hands," said Roseman. "We've had some success here with quick, smaller guys, and so we decided to take a look."
More than anything, Grigson and Roseman trusted Patch's word, and invited Hall to the NovaCare Complex on Thursday for a make-or-break workout.
"When he came in and worked out, coupled with Patch's evaluation, made a lot of sense for us to sign him," said Grigson. "What Patch said, and how he described Hall, was nailed down when he came to the NovaCare Complex. There wasn't a reason to delay. The really good teams, I think, are on the good players quickly. There were other teams interested, but we did our due diligence and got a full vibe on the entire situation. We knew that sooner or later a team was going to take a stab on the kid, so there was absolutely no reason to wait around.
"To me, it's what scouting is all about. People may say, 'Oh, this kid hasn't played in two years' and all of that, but we had to trust what we saw. Chad is a guy who, if you had a checklist of everything -- his off-the-charts production, all of his intangibles, his work ethic, everything was positive. To me, it was a slam dunk to sign him."
The Eagles carry a precious number of players on the off-season roster -- 80 maximum, although unsigned draft picks push the number higher during the post-draft camps -- and signings are not taken lightly. Patch had the original report and Hall's workout confirmed the Pro Day performance and for a scout humping every day on the road, there are few better moments.
"It is our jobs to go out and look at these workouts. Chad was a unique situation. Most of these guys are seniors and we can't do anything until the draft and after the draft. Chad is from Atlanta, and he wanted to go work out at the Pro Day at Georgia Tech to get more exposure, but it was just so obvious that his skills were strong. Every scout saw it. In a good group of players, Chad's performance was really good. Two years ago, talking to the defensive coaches out there, getting a feel for players, Chad was somebody who had everyone's respect. He was the guy to stop on Air Force's offense and nobody really stopped him.
"The numbers he put up spoke volumes in college. Two years away from the game, he didn't look like he missed a beat. He came to that Pro Day to perform, to compete. You like to see that. I'm happy for Chad. I hope it works out for him."
Initial comparisons -- fair or not -- have been made to Danny Amendola and Reno Mahe. Neither player was a burner in the NFL -- Amendola isn't past tense at all; he is playing for the Rams in St. Louis -- but quickness allowed Mahe to stay in the league for four seasons and is a reason Amendola is a big part of the Rams' offense and special teams.
"We would not bring anyone in here unless we thought he had a legitimate shot to make the roster and make us a better football team," said Roseman. "We don't believe in the term 'camp body.' We want everyone to have a legitimate chance to make the roster."
So where will Hall play? How does he fit in, potentially? The Eagles want to see him as an inside receiver, maybe take a handoff or two out of the backfield and certainly they want to give him a shot in the return game.
It is all just beginning for Hall, and as the NFL works, it could end just as quickly as it has started. But for now, at this moment, Hall has his chance. It started with a Pro Day workout watched by Anthony Patch, who took copious notes and urged Ryan Grigson and Howie Roseman to take a closer look. They did, and the Eagles quickly extended Hall an invitation to fly to Philadelphia and work out in front of personnel people and coaches.
And in the course of a week, Hall earned the chance to pursue a dream he kept alive for two years away from the game.
"It's up to Chad now," said Grigson. "You love seeing a guy like this get a chance. He wants it. He has great motivation and desire. You know that he is going to give it everything he has, and you want players like that around."