Works in Progress, Rookie WRs Hollins, Gibson Infuse Eagles With Energy, Speed, Explosiveness

They didn't have any speed. So they drafted speed.

They didn't have any big-play wide receivers. So they drafted two guys who made a ton of big plays in college.

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They didn't have any young wideouts to get excited about. Now they have two.

Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson are hoping to help infuse what was a lifeless Eagles wide receiving corps with energy, speed and explosiveness.

This year's draft was only the fourth since 1960 that the Eagles drafted two wideouts in the first five rounds. And a few weeks into OTAs, Gibson and Hollins are doing their best to keep up with the heavy workload.

"Definitely nowhere near where I need to be," said Gibson, taken in the fifth round. "Need to stay in my books, take it one day at a time. It's a lot of plays. So every single day is different installs and then they're throwing stuff in there from last week that you need to retain, so it's a lot to take in.

"I'm definitely hard on myself, but I don't let it get to me. Just come in the next day and see if I can't do better than the day before."

The Eagles' receivers were just awful last year.

They were the only team in the NFL without a single wideout averaging over 12.5 yards per catch, and all the receivers on the roster combined caught just seven passes of 30 yards or more.

Hollins? He led all of NCAA Division I with 24.8 yards per catch as a junior at North Carolina and averaged over 20 yards per catch for his career.

Gibson? He averaged 22.1 yards per catch at West Virginia, with 17 touchdowns.

The two ranked No. 2 and No. 5 in Division I in yards per catch over the past three years.

Transferring that speed and big-play ability from college to the NFL is what both are working on right now at OTAs.

"I feel like I have a good handle on it so far," said Hollins, a fourth-round pick. "Obviously, the playbook is a little more complete than a college one, but I think I've been picking it up well.

"There's actually some similar stuff to what I did at Carolina, conceptually. Obviously, there's more depth to it, but it's starting to get easier. You break the huddle and know what you got instead of right before the ball's snapped, 'Ummmmm … Oh, I got this!'"

Both Gibson and Hollins said the mental side of the NFL has been a bigger challenge than the physical side.

Gibson said he's had some rough days at practice, but he said he's able to learn from them and not get down on himself.

"Just take a breath," he said with a laugh. "Taking a long, deep breath and just knowing that probably every rookie in the country is going through the exact same thing as I am.

"That's the biggest thing, just knowing that it's not going to be easy. When I get down on myself, I just remind myself, 'This is not easy,' and there's a reason I'm here.

"The first week, I wanted to come out and show my skill and everything like that, but learning the plays is the only way I'm going to be able to play fast.

"The coaches say just take it step by step, day by day, and the vets, they said, 'Hey, we didn't know everything right at the start either.' That makes you feel better. Just feel like I'm back in my freshman year of college, just that everybody is moving a whole lot faster."

With Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Matthews roster locks, Torrey Smith now in the picture and Nelson Agholor an unlikely roster cut because of his cap figure, there's a chance Hollins and Gibson will be competing against each other for a fifth wide receiver slot on the eventual 53-man roster.

"Really like the receivers we got," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Obviously, Gibson, he's got the trait of speed that you just can't buy. That's shown up on the field some.

"Mack Hollins is kind of a build-the-speed guy with great length and tremendous ball skills. That's flashed already. He's got tremendous ball skills. Very smart, very good feet for a big man. Very excited about his development."

Hollins said he's been surprised to see that NFL players are mere mortals.

"I think I expected physically people to be these superhuman guys," he said. "But really everybody's about the same. Obviously, there are some guys who are better physically ahead of everybody else but it's really more of a mental game.

"I feel like I'm picking things up, but I don't think in college I knew the offense second-nature until maybe my senior year. You don't really know-it know it until you get a couple years in, and it's gotta be on-the-field experience. You can study all you want. Until I know what the linemen are doing, until I know what every single person on the field is doing and when I know when the defense is doing as well, I won't know it second-nature."

With Jeffery, Smith, Hollins and Gibson, the Eagles have added potentially four new weapons for Carson Wentz, who was pretty good last year without an elite receiving corps.

One of the most important storylines of this season will be how this new receiving group performs, and Hollins and Gibson will get every chance to show they belong.

"I hold myself to a really high standard," Hollins said. "A lot of the guys are like that. Where you can always do better, you can always learn the play quicker, you can always know more, you can always read defenses better.

"For me and the guys in this locker room, it's, 'What can I do better this time?' No patting yourself on the back. Everybody in here is great but how can you get better? How can you win a championship? What do you have to do? All the guys are always looking to be better."

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