The surface around Mack Hollins’ stall wasn’t slippery. Even if it were wet, the carpet in the Eagles’ locker room wouldn’t be unsafe. And yet, two yellow caution signs were planted on each side of the wide receiver’s cubicle Tuesday.
One read: “Freaks Only — Restricted Area — Freak 4 Life”
The other said: “Warning — DBs beware — High Voltage Area — Freaks — Touching Freaks Will Cause Severe Shocks”
The signs belong to Gunter Brewer, the Eagles’ new receivers coach, and they predate his time with Hollins at the University of North Carolina. “Freaks” are what Brewer calls his charges — an acronym of sorts for “Fresh Receivers Exciting All Crowds” — and he’s had the placards since he coached Randy Moss at Marshall more than 20 years ago.
“That’s just our thing,” Hollins said. “These are the signs that we had outside our [meeting room] door in Carolina. Same ones. So now I got them here, so that people know not to come over here unless they want the axe.”
A few of the Eagles’ defensive backs didn’t seem the least bit frightened when asked about the “freaks,” but the signs aren’t intended for them. Brewer may have never coached in the NFL, and his methods of motivation may seem rudimentary at this level, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
Brewer has coached receivers for nearly 30 years, and during that span he had three Biletnikoff Award finalists — Moss, who won; Dez Bryant; and Justin Blackmon. Hollins didn’t reach those heights at UNC, but he did set a school record for yards per catch, and reuniting with Brewer could help the second-year wideout capitalize upon the promise he showed as a rookie.
“It’s always good to see a familiar face,” Hollins said. “Seeing him and having him as a coach again because I had him for five years at UNC, that’s just good because I know his tendencies and what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what I’ll get yelled at for.”
It’s unlikely that Brewer will scream at Hollins for not being enough of a freak — not a “Fresh Receiver Exciting All Crowds” — although the potential exists. Hollins is idiosyncratic. He owns two snakes, cites owning a world-renowned aquarium as his dream job, bikes to and from work — always wearing his backpack — and, well, beats to his own drum.
During practices, Hollins is one of the few players who will dance to the house music. The 24-year-old receiver is certainly viewed as a curiosity by many of his teammates.
The same could be said of his potential in football. Is Hollins destined to be a supplemental receiver and special-teams contributor or could he develop into a starter and offensive staple for the Eagles? The question may hang in the air if he doesn’t get the opportunity to become the latter.
Hollins was efficient last season, catching 16 of 22 targets for 226 yards and a touchdown as the fourth receiver. But if the Eagles were convinced that he could seamlessly step into the vacancy left by Torrey Smith, then they wouldn’t have likely signed free agent Mike Wallace.
While the 32-year-old veteran’s contract is for only one year, Hollins also has Alshon Jeffery and slot receiver Nelson Agholor ahead of him. He said that he hopes to get more chances, and when asked for his message to rookies who may be intimidated by their competition, Hollins sounded as if he was talking more about his own circumstances.
“Play your game. Don’t get caught up in, ‘Oh, he’s been playing in the league 10 years, he’s a starter, for sure,’ ” Hollins said. “Play your game, act like everybody’s on the same level, everybody’s on the same playing field, and just do what you’ve been doing your entire life.”
Shelton Gibson had a difficult time practicing that way last year. The rookie fifth-round pick struggled throughout the spring and summer because, he said, he “was still learning how to be a pro.” But he found his way onto the active roster, and while he played only sparingly on offense, he contributed on special teams.
Gibson isn’t guaranteed anything this year. Veteran Markus Wheaton was added in the offseason, practice squad players like Bryce Treggs and Greg Ward return, and there are several undrafted rookie candidates who could claim the last one or two receiver spots.
“I know exactly what the coaches want, how they want everything ran,” Gibson said. “I know what it takes to win another championship, and I’ll be damned if I’m not on the team.”
Gibson needs to look no farther than Agholor — who had his fifth-year option picked up earlier this month — for a receiver who altered his fortunes in one offseason. A year ago, the former first-rounder was considered by some to be a bust-in-waiting. But Agholor blossomed under Mike Groh, then the receivers coach and now the offensive coordinator, and took advantage of Jordan Matthews’ knee injury.
Jeffery, who is likely to miss most of training camp as he recovers from shoulder surgery, isn’t going to lose his job. But his absence could create opportunities for receivers farther down the depth chart. Hollins has an edge because of his experience with Brewer.
“He just knows how I learn,” Hollins said. “He knows that, for me, I love being able to see things or be able to do them on the field.”
Dancing is another thing he loves to do during practice.
“I think you have more fun with it when you relax and don’t worry about it,” said Hollins, who celebrated his lone touchdown last season with the dance “The Floss.” “And I try to tell the rookies, ‘Act like you’re in your senior year of college. Relax. Don’t get so tense.’”
And get your freak on.
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