Late on Friday night, nearly an hour after the Eagles' preseason opener against the New York Jets finished, a large group of reporters gathered around the locker of wide receiver A.J. Brown at Lincoln Financial Field, waiting to hear the reaction of the ever-popular, sensational new Eagle acquired in the offseason.
In the next locker over, wide receiver Zach Pascal emerged from the shower, wrapped in a towel, all smiles. One reporter wanted to talk to him after a two-catch, 41-yard performance in his Eagles preseason debut after the team signed him early in free agency.
In a sense, it's a kind of microcosm for the way Pascal has conducted his five-year NFL career – under the radar, understanding that the audience that appreciates his game is a large one and consists so much of those who see the value he brings to a team. His coaches, his teammates – those are the ones who "get" Pascal the most.
On Friday night, though, everyone had a chance to experience Pascal and what he brings to the Eagles' offense. On the team's second possession, he worked his way free in the middle of the field and quarterback Gardner Minshew found Pascal for a 9-yard gain to convert a third-and-1 situation. A play later, Pascal ran a short route on the left side and the connection from Minshew wasn't quite there.
In the second quarter, Pascal caught a pass from Minshew and turned up the field to gain 32 yards, finishing the play by lowering his shoulder for a few extra steps to put the Eagles in scoring position with fewer than two minutes to go in the half.
All told, Pascal was targeted four times – he created separation on each occasion – and caught two passes for 41 yards. Considering he had returned to Training Camp practices only a few days earlier after missing substantial time with food poisoning that sent him to the hospital for four days during which time he lost 16 pounds, it was pretty remarkable.
And that's why Pascal was all smiles after the game – the hard work he put in poring over the details staring at his iPad while hospitalized and all the strength and conditioning work that he's done before the illness and in the days since have paid off for Pascal.
"I'm not all the way back where I want to be strength-wise, but I have been in the weight room every single day," Pascal said. "If we have practice in the morning, I'm in the weight room in the evening. If we practice at night – even today I lifted this morning. I'm still trying to get my strength back after the illness."
That's been Pascal's MO his entire career. He's worked to make the NFL after going undrafted following his outstanding career at Old Dominion. While with Indianapolis, Pascal's snap count and starting assignments increased – and so did his production until a tough offensive outing for the Colts last season. The Eagles eagerly signed Pascal in free agency, envisioning him as a do-everything, tough, physical, catch-in-traffic receiver who would be depth and leadership to a young wide receiver corps while also aiding on special teams.
Even with Brown on hand, the Eagles have big plans for Pascal.
"I'm excited with where he's at. He fits right in with the group from a personality standpoint, from a competitive standpoint," Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead said. "The football stuff generally tends to take care of itself. Everybody's got their role, and as you are moving forward and going into the last week of the preseason getting ready to play Detroit (the start of the regular season), those roles start to kind of iron out.
"And as we know, during the season they change, based on a lot of different things – players playing different positions, guys getting injured, things like that. Zach is doing a great job. Excited he's here, excited he's able to practice full and that he's making plays."
What has also helped is that Pascal and the receivers had a lot of reps with the quarterbacks in the spring during workouts at the NovaCare Complex, so the timing and chemistry were already on the way to being developed before Pascal became ill. So now that he's back, he is picking it right back up with Jalen Hurts and Minshew.
The expectation, then, is that everything is heading in the right direction.
"I feel great and I think we were hitting on all cylinders on offense here," Pascal said. "Coach is big on the details and executing. Executing fuels confidence. If we can give him confidence that any play he calls we can execute, we've got a good thing going on. So, this was a good way to start it off."
It sure was, and Pascal was right in the middle of it. The right people, those who really matter noticed it, and there is more to come for a player who wants to do his part, any part, to help the Eagles win this season.
"That's the kind of guy Zach is," Moorehead said. "He can do whatever we ask of him. He is so hungry, just the kind of player we like around here."