The transition is already starting to come along for Marcus Smith.
Sure, it’s been less than a week since the Eagles' first-round pick started his first OTAs at the professional level. On Thursday, however, Smith said his body was starting to adjust to the fast pace that comes with playing in the NFL, and especially under Chip Kelly.
Two days after a first practice that he admitted left him exhausted, the outside linebacker looked fresh and upbeat after Thursday’s session.
“I think I’m starting to get [acclimated] now,” Smith said. “That first practice was run-and-gun and I was just really tired. Coach Kelly really talks about recovery, and that’s what I did starting the next day.”
Though his status as a first-round pick has many hoping for him to make an immediate impact, Smith is not projected to start in his first season; veterans Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are ahead of him on the depth chart.
Not surprisingly, Smith didn’t take any reps with the first-team defense on Thursday. What was a little surprising, though, was seeing him play exclusively with the third team at left outside linebacker, behind both Barwin and free-agent signee Bryan Braman.
While most expected the Louisville product to challenge the 10-year veteran Cole for playing time on the right side, Smith has so far learned only Barwin’s position, also known as the “Jack” linebacker.
It is unlikely that Smith will seriously threaten Barwin for the starting spot, but at the very least, playing behind him may help Smith learn the multiple responsibilities that outside linebackers in Billy Davis’ defense need to master.
“I try to go to [Connor] for any advice or any help,” Smith said. “I try to mirror the stuff that he does, try to do the same things because I know he’s successful.
“[Connor] knows a lot and he’s very knowledgeable. He’s had great success in the NFL, so I just try to get every little thing I can from him. Once I’m able to play in games I want to be able to do the same things he does.”
Depending on how fast Smith progresses, Davis could always play him on the left and shift Barwin to the right to give the sixth-year veteran more pass-rushing opportunities. Barwin had 11.5 sacks for the Houston Texans in 2011.
The two biggest challenges for Smith with the Eagles, apart from simply getting used to high-speed practices, will be playing every snap in a two-point, standing position and seeing more time in pass coverage.
According to Smith, the latter won’t be an issue. Although he made a name for himself at Louisville as a pass-rusher by racking up 14.5 sacks as a senior last season, he also spent time dropping back in Charlie Strong’s scheme.
“I like it (dropping into coverage) a lot,” Smith said. “I did it probably 50 percent in college and it expands my vision of what’s going on in the backfield. I think my speed is good enough to run with anybody.”
Having rushed the passer from both a two- and three-point stance in college, Smith said he enjoys the standing position of a linebacker in the 3-4.
For the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Smith, becoming an effective pass-rusher at the professional level will be more about developing his techniques against offensive tackles than it will about what stance he lines up in.
Smith’s new coaches have already begun to show him the necessary changes and additions he needs to make to his technique to be successful, and hopefully, move up the depth chart.
“The coaches, when we watch film, talk about our hand placement,” Smith said. “That’s one big thing because we always want to keep our thumbs inside and be able to knock the [offensive] tackle back. I noticed in college I didn’t do that as well, so coming into the NFL you have to do that because you play against great tackles.”