‘Whole Different Zone’
Vet WR Pascal Makes Most Of New Role
PHOENIX – Holding court Wednesday at Table 1 inside the Komatke Ballroom during media day alongside fellow wide receiver DeVonta Smith, Zach Pascal began glowing with pride when asked about the camaraderie among his position group.
‘We compete in everything,” the veteran Eagles receiver replied. “And it’s funny because we gel together like that. We always want each other to get better. So, if there’s anything we can compete at, we compete and get better at it.”
The elder statesman of the room, Pascal’s deep-seated competitiveness and resolve are ingrained deeply into his character.
It’s an inherent mentality so galvanizing and inspiring that Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni – Pascal’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis – prioritized bringing Pascal to Philadelphia to promote a unified culture forged by perseverance, a quality Sirianni first instilled when he became the franchise’s 21st head coach two years ago.
Pascal even had a name for it.
“Basically, dawg mentality is just being able to handle adversity or whatever situation, good or bad, and being a dog as far as dominating and mental focus,” Pascal explained. “The result is: ‘I’m gonna win.’ And however that is, I’m gonna win. You can take that in life, whatever situation it is – a family member, a situation at work, whatever – I’m gonna win the situation.”
To be seated in that chair on Super Bowl Media Day was a testament to the tenacity and steadfast determination personified throughout Pascal’s winding path at the professional level, which began five seasons ago as an undrafted free agent.
However, looking back to his earlier days this season, it would have been understandable if even Pascal had difficulty adhering to the very mentality that fueled his career.
A 13-game starter last year for the Colts, for whom he amassed 38 receptions for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 69 targets, Pascal carefully considered his free-agent options last offseason.
His familiarity with, and development under, Sirianni’s watchful eye, along with Sirianni’s offense – which Pascal enjoyed because any player could get the ball at any time – and the prospects of being closer to his family made Philadelphia the most logical choice.
But following the draft night acquisition of Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Brown to accompany DeVonta Smith in heading a new-look Eagles aerial attack, and with the fleet-footed Quez Watkins entrenched as the No. 3, it appeared Pascal would climb no higher than fourth on the depth chart.
Rather than sulk or campaign for his release at the first sign of adversity, Pascal instead leaned on his dawg mentality and quickly became an asset, setting the example for a young receiver room by passing along many of the subtleties and nuances he had learned from Sirianni.
“[Sirianni’s] very detailed and he doesn’t let you slack off just one play,” Pascal said. “That helps groom a young receiver to understand every play, every detail, it doesn’t matter. You can be great and consistent with your details — the littles things — your work ethic. Things like that.”
A prominent fixture in the passing game in Indianapolis, where he accounted for over 78 percent of the offensive snaps last season, Pascal embraced his newfound role with the Eagles, which involved a lot the unselfish, gritty-and-grimy perimeter blocking and using savvy to free teammates up for big plays.
Contributions that don’t show up in the box score.
And while it would have been easy to resent his contributions or give a half-hearted effort, Pascal concedes that it takes a certain mentality to be selfless.
“You definitely gotta have a dawg mentality,” Pascal said as he leaned forward in his chair. “Our coach calls it the sombrero block. That means all eyes are on you on this block; if you don’t make this block, the play won’t work.
“I love situations like that. I feel like I thrive in situations like that, and so, being able to be that person that they trust in that situation, I take pride in it for sure. A lot of guys wouldn’t wanna do that, but I’ll do it and I’ll be great at it.”
Amid the plethora of weaponry at the Eagles’ disposal, Pascal had become something of an afterthought in the public eye – logging just 15 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown in nearly 29 percent of the offensive snaps – but hardly amongst his teammates.
In his reduced role, the Old Dominion product, who has become a core contributor for special teams coordinator Michael Clay, has found joy in watching teammates thrive.
“I like seeing my teammates succeed,” Pascal said. “We’re all here at the Super Bowl, and I feel like a lot of guys on this team is not selfish like that, to the point where it’s about me, me, me. Everybody wants to do their one-eleventh on the field.”
These days, Pascal might not lead from the front, but he embodies everything Sirianni covets in a leader in how he brings the locker room together.
And when he isn’t running down the field on special teams, almost as if shot out of a cannon, Pascal is making the most of his offensive opportunities, even if it’s lost among the untrained eyes.
“Zach is awesome,” wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said. “The guy is tough, strong. He’s a guy that makes plays when the ball comes to him, and I think all that leads into leadership.
“The guy comes to work everyday with a great mentality and he expects greatness from everybody around him. And even though he’s not the guy getting the most passes, he put himself in a position to be a highly successful part of this team on special teams. And obviously on offense, he goes out there and does everything we ask him to do. So, that’s what leadership is to me and I think he’s done a great job of it.”
As for the receiver room, the chemistry amongst the unit is special, exuding charisma, confidence, accountability – and competitiveness.
“We’re always talkin,” Pascal said. “We all know what we’re lookin’ at, so if we see somebody messin’ up on a certain play or something we give our two cents. But it’s never a battle or anything.
“We’re all getting each other better. When we walk out [media day], we’ll probably start shooting on the hoops, competing again some more. The room is great.”
Buried in a passing attack that features a pair of 1,000-yard receivers and an elite tight end, it’s easy to overlook Pascal’s contributions on a given game day, which is why Moorehead makes it a point to highlight his efforts throughout the week in front of his teammates, which often exemplify toughness and selflessness.
“You have to,” Moorehead acknowledged. “Because if you don’t, then he thinks that you don’t appreciate him. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want him to think that myself or other guys on this staff don’t appreciate what he does and his value to our football team.
“So, you gotta show ‘em. You gotta emphasize it to the group, because sometimes DeVonta and Quez – those guys are getting open and those are the guys catching the most passes – they gotta see that what this guy is doing over here is helping our football team sometimes just as much as you are. We all have our roles, and Zach has done a great job in continuing to excel in that, and just excited to see him go out and play Sunday.”
On his fourth team in five seasons, it appears the well-traveled Pascal has finally found a landing spot that he can call home for the long haul.
Days away from reaching the NFL’s pinnacle, when asked if he’d given any thought to what the moment will feel like hours before Sunday’s kickoff, Pascal sat back for a moment and paused, almost as if to reflect on the journey.
“I’m gonna soak it all in,” Pascal said. “I might shed a tear, I might not, though. I’m thinking. But once the ball is kicked, I’m in a whole different zone.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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