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Graney: Free spirit Mack Hollins makes impact with Raiders

Crazy. Mack Hollins always has been known for the peculiar. Pet snakes. Wants to own a zoo. Talks about having a fish tank big enough in which to swim. Would dig becoming a professional skydiver.

Tales about lions and alligators and earning a pilot’s license.

It’s as if a football career has always come second when telling his story.

Not anymore.

You always knew others would be involved. That the offense of Raiders coach Josh McDaniels would feature more options than preordained stars.

Typical of Hollins. Working harder than anyone else to be such a choice.

He’s off to a faster start than even his legs can move.

Opportunity knocks

The Raiders are 0-3, but nobody can question the play of Hollins, a 29-year-old wide receiver who signed with the team in the offseason after playing the past two-plus seasons with the Dolphins.

The hype was about wide receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller. The reality has been a bit different.

It has meant opportunity knocking loudly for Hollins, a six-year pro who began his career with the Eagles and fought all of training camp to be that third wideout for the Raiders.

Has proven even more valuable early on.

Hollins leads the team with 240 receiving yards and a 17.1 per-catch average on 15 fewer targets than Adams. The latter has dealt with constantly fighting through the attention of double teams. Bracketed all over the field. Opponents just daring Adams — who has 189 yards and three touchdowns — to beat them.

One man taken away opens the door (field?) for another.

“If a building is burning, everyone says they’re going to be the hero,” Hollins said. “But rarely when that situation comes do you magically become that person. I know that for me to be a guy who plays hard and has fun doing it, it has to be an everyday thing. It can’t just be on Sundays. Maybe there are guys who can do it and be the hero. I’m not that guy.

“I know that I have to practice hard and having fun on the off days and enjoy coming in here no matter how tired I am or how bad a mood I’m in. I have to be able to switch it … I just love the game. Ground myself. Remember why you play it. Don’t let it get too serious. Prepare yourself.”

It was a few hours before kickoff at Tennessee on Sunday when Hollins went through a pregame warmup that included him standing straight and catching balls tossed over his head.

Practice makes perfect?

In a final scoring drive to pull the Raiders within 24-22, Hollins had a few such catches on fourth down. The first went for 48 yards down the right side. The other was a fade route for a touchdown. Both over the shoulder grabs. Both terrific plays.

He finished with a career day: Eight receptions for 158 yards and a score while playing all but two snaps.

“If I could have made more plays, maybe we could have won,” he said.

It was after practice Wednesday when he opened a case full of Ramen noodle packages.

“Never forget,” he said, “where you come from.”

A free spirit

Coaches talk about his character. About how good a person he is. How unselfish. They talk about how the minute he arrived in Las Vegas, he took ownership. That he would do it all if asked. Running down on kickoffs. The gunner on a punt team. Rushing punts. Playing every snap on offense.

That’s not to say Hollins doesn’t still surprise some now and then.

“I look out my window once in a while, and Mack is running to the facility,” McDaniels said. “There’s not a lot of people who use their legs to get anywhere anymore, but Mack is one of them.

“He’s a free spirit, but with an urgency and attention to detail about him that you ask every player in the building to possess. What a breath of fresh air. He just has great interests, and I think that speaks to the depth of the person.

“He leads. He practices well. He encourages others. He picks guys up. He makes big plays. He’s tough. Hard to find people more determined to help the team more than Mack.”

The lions and snakes and fish tanks bigger than Allegiant Stadium are all nice and stuff, but Mack Hollins has written a different story of late. He’s making a big-time impact on the field.

The zoo can wait. So can the skydiving.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.