Zone Read: Eagles-Titans, the Day After
Ever since Josh Huff played for Chip Kelly as a true freshman at Oregon in 2010, his head coach has asked the same question on the field before games.
Are you scared?
“He always asked me that before every game,” Huff said. “And every game I tell him the same answer: No I’m not scared, and I’m ready to make a play. And that was evident today.”
Huff was 7 yards deep in the end zone when he fielded the opening kickoff against the Titans. He said he knew regardless of where he received it, he was going to bring it out. And so he did.
Key blocks from James Casey, Trey Burton and Zach Ertz sprung Huff as he headed towards the right sideline. He delivered a stiff-arm to Titans kicker Ryan Succop at the Eagles’ 37 yard line and kept the ball in his right hand.
Near the Tennessee 20, he delivered a second stiff-arm, throwing a Titans defender to the ground. Huff crossed the goal line, faked a spike and tossed the ball behind him as his teammates began celebrating.
As he returned to the sideline, he got a handshake from Bryan Braman, a congratulatory headbutt from Chris Polk and a hug from his position coach, Bob Bicknell.
Then Huff met Kelly – his head coach for four of the last five seasons. They embraced for a few seconds, and Kelly had some words for the rookie wide receiver.
“Before every game, he just asks me am I scared,” Huff said. “And that was one of his messages when I came to the sideline. He said he forgot to ask me was I scared, and he was just like, ‘Obviously you weren’t scared. You made a play. And now that you know you can make that play, continue to make those plays.’ I’ve just gotta continue to get better as the season goes along and hope for the best.”
It’s been a frustrating season for Huff. He had a fumble in the Eagles’ loss to the Cardinals. The following week against the Texans, a Mark Sanchez pass bounced off his hands and was intercepted. And last week against Green Bay, Huff failed to make a play on special teams as the Packers returned one for a touchdown.
During the week, he described his play as piss-poor. It was clear that Huff was frustrated and had put a lot of pressure on himself.
“Josh has got to stop beating himself up,” Kelly said. “I think maybe the good part about him is he has high expectations for himself. But I know we’re not as down on him as I think sometimes he expresses that he is. He really doesn’t talk to us like that, so maybe you guys are intimidating when you ask him questions.”
Asked what he was thinking as he made it into the end zone, Huff said: “Finally. Just me working so hard and finally getting back, putting so much pressure on myself to go out and perform. I relaxed and let the game come to me and just play my game.”
For players like Huff, the transition from college to the NFL can be difficult. In 2010, he was the only freshman at Oregon to play on offense in every game. By his sophomore season, he was a full-time starter. But so far, he has averaged just 19.4 offensive snaps per game and has just six catches for 48 yards.
Huff’s fellow wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, remembers facing a similar challenge in his rookie season.
“I got on the field a little earlier when I came out,” Maclin recalled. “But I remember even my first game against Carolina, I think I had 15 reps. I went to coach and told [wide receivers] coach [David] Culley, ‘Hey, I need to get on the field. I think I’m better than [Kevin] Curtis.’ No disrespect to him, but that’s how I was feeling at the time. So for a rookie to come in and expect things to just be given to him, that’s not the case here. So you’ve gotta earn everything that you get.
“Obviously he wants to play. If you don’t want to play, something’s wrong with you. Obviously he wants to play, but at the same time, you’ve gotta be patient.”
It’s unclear if Huff will see an expanded role on offense during his rookie season. But he gave the team a boost with his opening return on Sunday.
In a season where he’s endured more downs than ups, Huff is hoping the touchdown will give him a lift.
“It definitely boosts confidence just to know that I can make those plays on this level and that my teammates continue to have faith in me to make those plays,” he said. “Even if I mess up, those guys still have faith in me.”