By Ben Sullivan
This day has been coming since that fateful day in May when the Eagles surprised everyone by picking outside linebacker Marcus Smith with their first draft choice.
“WHO??????? They could have gotten him in the third round,” was the major criticism, assuming mock drafts were correct.
So everyone has been watching as the Louisville alum started getting time with the first string.
Then last Friday, the Eagles got Smith 73 snaps against the New England Patriots who ran up 42 points against the porous Eagles defense. What the Eagles didn’t get out of Smith’s extended playing time was results.
“If you are going to play that many plays,” Kelly said, “we are going to need more production out of you.”
Smith, who also saw time on special teams, totaled one tackle, three quarterback hurries, and an alarming three missed tackles against the Patriots. The rookie played throughout the game, as he was out there with the starters and stayed in right up until the very end with the third-string unit.
“With that amount of snaps, you would like to see so much more production from me,” Smith said. “I think they put a lot on my plate, and I should want to have that.”
The Eagles filled put Smith behind starting left outside linebacker Connor Barwin during OTAs. The left outside linebacker, or the “Jack” position, is the more complicated of the two outside linebacker spots as it requires Smith to spend considerable time dropping back into coverage.
Learning the complicated position has forced Smith to second guess himself out on the field, something the rookie said lead to his struggles against the Patriots.
“It seems like better got to worse, and then worse got to really worse,” Smith said. “If I have a bad play, I have to let it go and just keep playing the next play.”
The preseason has not been all bad for Smith, who had a batted pass and a quarterback hurry in Chicago two weeks ago. One of the hardest adjustments for a rookie, especially on defense, is getting comfortable enough in a system so that their natural athleticism can take over. When Smith has been able to do that, the results have impressed the coaches.
“He’s got some burst, he’s got some speed coming off the edge. But still has a lot of things to improve on,” Kelly said. “That is what the preseason is all about. I think we know what Trent (Cole) can do, what Connor (Barwin) can do at that spot. We are really trying to figure out what the guys behind (them) can do.”
Unless the Eagles start to see more production out of Smith, it sounds like the rookie’s extended playing time will come to an end once training camp ends and the regular season begins.
“Obviously if we were playing a (regular season) game,” Kelly said of Smith, “it would be a different setup in terms of who is in there.”