To understand what Sunday was like for Mack Hollins, you have to understand where he’s been.
From Jan. 14, 2018, until Sept. 14, 2019, Hollins didn’t catch a pass.
That’s 610 days without helping his football team as he dealt with a seemingly endless injury ordeal.
When you're hurt you kind of go in that dark place,” he said. “You know, ‘Am I going to get back to that? Am I going to be the Mack that I once was? Am I going to be the guy that I was in North Carolina (and) my rookie year?' But the biggest thing is, you know, just pushing ahead and having teammates and trainers and family members that keep you going because you feel like you're alone a lot of times, but you got plenty of people to help you along.
Hollins spoke Thursday of the solitude he felt, the loneliness, during his endless rehab.
He was smiling when he said this:
I’m a loner anyway. I'm like the weird guy so not too many guys will hang with me, anyway. With the (pet) snakes and all that.
Hollins missed all of last year, missed a good chunk of training camp, and there was even some question whether he’d survive roster cuts.
Hollins only played 10 snaps on offense in the opener, but when Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson got hurt early in Atlanta, for the first time ever in a meaningful game, Hollins became a focal point of the offense.
Not including the 2017 season ender, Hollins had averaged 15 snaps per game in his career.
Against the Falcons he got 69.
You look to the sideline, there's nobody over there to come get me,” he said. “So … ‘If you're tired, there's not much we can tell you.’ They're going to look back at you and we're both gonna just be staring at each other. Look in the huddle and see I'm seeing JJ [Arcega-Whiteside] and [Nelson Agholor] and [Zach] Ertz and those are the only other receiving guys we have. It's like shared misery. Misery loves company and we're just all in there like, Hey, we're all hurting but we got to find a way.
Hollins caught a career-high five catches for 50 yards Sunday, all in the second half.
He had caught just 17 passes for 235 yards in 20 previous NFL games.
The Eagles lost. But Hollins looked like he belonged, and Sunday he'll likely make his first NFL start when the Eagles face the Lions at the Linc.
It was suggested that the performance might have helped his confidence.
My confidence is where it's always been,” he said. “No, we prepare for this. You come to this level to prepare to play. You don't prepare to be sitting on the bench. You prepare to be a starter, whether you're playing or not. And that's what coach (Mike) Groh and you know coach (Carson) Walch, coach Pederson have always told us and that's what we continue to do and that's why me and JJ were able to go in and make plays and have no errors on our routes, just because we we've been preparing (and) we've been being ready like we're starters.
In about a month, Hollins has gone from a guy who was in jeopardy of losing his roster spot to a critical piece of the Eagles’ offense going into a must-win Sunday.
With 21 career receptions, he’ll be the Eagles’ second-most experienced wide receiver in uniform.
Whatever coach needs me to do,” he said. “I played a lot a lot of different roles a lot of different positions on this team and I'll continue to do that or whatever helps us win. Whether that’s taking the top off or blocking or staying in and playing teams. I'll do it all. Whatever it takes.
These are challenging days for the Eagles’ offense and the Eagles’ receiving corps. If Hollins can keep doing what he did in the second half Sunday in Atlanta it would go a long way to making this stretch easier to take.
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