New Eagles WR Mack Hollins bringing his snakes with him to Philly

New Eagles WR Mack Hollins bringing his snakes with him to Philly

When Eagles' fourth-round pick Mack Hollins drives up to Philadelphia from his hometown Rockville, Maryland, he's going to have two companions. 

His snakes. 

Hollins, the UNC receiver, is a big fan of exotic animals. His two snakes — a ball python and a sunglow boa — were sitting by him as he spoke on a conference call with Philly reporters on Saturday afternoon. 

According to his bio at North Carolina, Hollins' dream job is to one day own a "world-renowned aquarium." 

"I actually have both my snakes here now," Hollins said. "I've had turtles. I was going to get an alligator at school, but my roommates weren't really all for it. My dad had a lion growing up, so we've had it all."

A lion? 

Where do you keep a lion? 

"His dad had it in a big cage in his yard," Hollins answered. "I guess in Ohio, the permits aren't as difficult to get exotic animals. Might be where I get mine from. I don't know how Philly will feel about some of the exotic animals, but I might have to get a couple."

For now, though, Hollins is sticking with his snakes. And he plans on driving them to Philly. 

"It's nothing but an hour drive," he said. "I'll put them in a car and load them up. I might come with nothing but the snakes."

Eagles stay away from taking controversial RB Joe Mixon

Eagles stay away from taking controversial RB Joe Mixon

After spending the first day of the draft commending Derek Barnett's character and stressing the importance of character in their players, it would have been quite a departure to draft Joe Mixon in the second around.

They passed.

Mixon, the talented running back from Oklahoma who once punched a woman and broke her jaw, was available when the Eagles took corner Sidney Jones at pick No. 43.

The Bengals took him five spots later.

Was Mixon on the Eagles' draft board? Reports surfaced both ways in the weeks leading up to the start of the draft. On Friday, Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman wouldn't say one way or the other on Friday, but feel free to read between the lines.

"Yeah, I don't know that we necessarily want to get into each particular player, whether they were on our board or not," Roseman said. "We have very specific guidelines for guys that we're going to select or not; we made those decisions a long time ago. I know there have been a lot of reports, and I don't know where a lot of them have come from. But we make the decisions based on the people that we want to bring into this building and the criteria we put forth."

Last year, the Eagles took three players on Day 3 with some character concerns. With those picks, they found some value. But obviously, those situation's were different from Mixon's.

And throughout the process, the Eagles have said they judge every player on a case-by-case basis.

“I heard a great story in that year away and when you have young players who are some of the leaders of your football team, you want to surround them with guys who have the same personality," Roseman said to CSNPhilly.com, "and for us it’s very important who we bring into this building and what the dealbreaker is for us, and we took that approach into the draft."

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

For family days at the University of Tennessee, former defensive line coach Steve Stripling's wife Gayle would make cookies for the crowd. And every time she did, it didn't go unnoticed by the Vols' best player. 

Every time, without fail, Derek Barnett would make a point to seek her out and say, "Hey Mrs. Strip, thank you for the cookies." 

It's a small thing, thanking someone for cookies. But it's something that seems to exemplify the type of players the Eagles are focused on bringing into the organization, especially with new VP of player personnel Joe Douglas leading the draft charge. And it was the one of the stories that stuck out most to Steve Stripling on Friday morning, 12 hours after the pick was made. 

"He's got that in him," Stripling said to CSNPhilly.com on Friday morning, just before boarding a flight from Philadelphia back to Tennessee, "and then on the football field, I've seen him just be a monster. 

"He has that ability to be quiet, unassuming, polite, respectful, all that, and then on the football field, he's a warrior. When he walks on the football field, he's different, totally different." 

Barnett, 20, is a pretty quiet and reserved guy. Some fans thought he didn't look pleased to be picked by the Eagles with the 14th pick on Thursday night, but that's not true. That's just his demeanor — off the field. 

On the field, Barnett is a relentless technician with an exceptional motor that powered him to 33 sacks at Tennessee, breaking Reggie White's long-standing record. 

"If you get to know him, he doesn't say much," Stripling said. "He's very quiet, but on the football field, when he says something, everyone pays attention. He just has that built into him, to play hard and he's a grinder and focused and all those things."

Stripling joined the Volunteers' coaching staff as an associate head coach and defensive line coach for the 2013 season. That was the year spent recruiting Barnett out of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Barnett's 2016 season, Stripling, 63, took a job as the director of football program development, but he was Barnett's position coach for all three years of his college stay. 

And from the time Barnett arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2014, it didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize something was special about him. 

Stripling recalls a play that the coaching staff has shown "a thousand times" since it happened back in 2014. During the first or second day of Volunteers' two-a-day camp, Barnett, then a freshman, showed that relentless style for which he's now become known. Barnett lined up as the team's right end as the ball broke to the left and the carrier jetted down field. From out of nowhere, Barnett chased him 40 yards downfield and delivered a sideline hit. 

Before that play, Tennessee knew Barnett was good. After that play, it knew he was special. 

"Usually when a freshman gets to camp, they're just trying to fit in, learn their way," Stripling said. "But it was from Day 1." 

The Tennessee defensive line room tried to live by an acronym: EAT — effort, accountability and technique. Barnett represented all of those facets. 

But perhaps more than anything, the technique part of his game is what really stands out. The use of his hands and his ability to bend as a pass rusher are the traits that vaulted him into the top half of the first round. 

And Barnett credits "Coach Strip" for a lot of it. 

"I’ll you what, he was hard on me," Barnett wrote about Stripling in the Players' Tribune. "From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player."

In addition to working with Tennessee coaches, Barnett has also spent time in the offseason working with former NFL defensive lineman and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. 

Barnett (6-3, 259 pounds) didn't perform well at the 2017 combine in Indianapolis. Even though he was dealing with the flu, he wanted to show more. But on Thursday night, that lackluster performance didn't seem to bother Douglas, who raved about his technique and even dropped some scouty lingo with the phrase "ankle flexion." 

Stripling, meanwhile, compared Barnett's bend as a pass rusher to former Colts great Dwight Freeney. 

"I think that's athletic ability to me, even though it's not a 40-yard time," Stripling said. "It's the ability to get low, reduce the surface and turn the corner. And I think that's one of his strong suites."

And then there's something Barnett has that simply can't be coached: instincts. Barnett, according to Stripling, has the unique ability to leave his gap responsibility at exactly the right time, when necessary to make a play: 

"I would say, 'Derek, how did you know the ball was going there?' He'd say, 'I just knew it.'"

For Stripling, Thursday night at the Ben Franklin Parkway was quite a thrill. A college coach since 1977, this was the first NFL draft he had ever attended. Hours after the Eagles used their 14th pick to take Barnett and hours after the hoopla surrounding the event had faded, Stripling sat up late with Barnett, his mother Christine and the rest of the family, reminiscing and reflecting. 

A little earlier in the night, when Barnett's name was called, Stripling happened to be seated near a group of inquisitive Eagles fans. 

"They were saying, 'who is this guy?'" Stripling recalled. "And I said, 'you're going to love this guy. He's going to work hard, he's going to be tough, he's going to make plays, you're going to love him.' I'm excited for him, it's going to be a good fit."