He’s been busy. In the last week, Marcus Smith was selected in the first round of the NFL draft, graduated from the University of Louisville, and began his new job as a professional football player.
“It’s been a great experience,” Smith said at the NovaCare Complex on Friday. “It’s what I’ve dreamed of.”
It was a natural response. These have been good days for Smith, but that doesn’t mean he is numb to any external pressures or concerns. He has not been hermetically sealed in the warm embrace of the Eagles' cocoon. He is aware that some people were critical when the Eagles took him 26th overall, and that Chip Kelly spent a good bit of effort thereafter defending him and urging skeptics to give him a chance.
“I know a lot of fans want to figure out why the Eagles picked me,” Smith admitted. “I feel like I can become a great player and I feel like I can become the player Coach Kelly wants me to be.”
It was a protracted but rare confession -- the first-round pick who freely acknowledged he knows there are doubters and he’s heard what they said. It would have been easy enough for Smith to employ some reflexive trope about how he doesn’t pay attention to outside opinions, easy enough to pivot to a talking point about football and helping the team win until everyone’s eyes glazed over and the assembly moved on in the interest of unearthing something less cliché and more interesting. Smith didn’t go that way.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Smith continued. “It just puts a chip on my shoulder. It makes me want to prove to people even more why they picked me.”
Smith didn’t deliver any of it with outsized defiance or indignation or even confidence. He was matter-of-fact about it all, as though dealing with doubters is simply another job requirement in the National Football League. And of course it is. Because while the Eagles trumpeted Smith the way you'd expect for a first-round pick, no amount of pleading from Kelly will keep people from judging the selection. They will judge Smith after he plays -- as Kelly requested -- but they will judge him well in advance of that, too. It is how things work, in the league and the town.
Here, again, Smith was fully aware of the burden. He said “more people lean on you and expect more things out of you because you’re a first-round pick.” He was right. They do.
The Eagles grabbed Smith with the expectation that he will transition from being a defensive end in college (after beginning, you might have heard, as a quarterback) to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. That would not be an easy task for someone who played defense his whole life. Smith has not played defense his whole life. These last two years represent his most time playing defense since Pop Warner.
Smith, as you’d expect, said he “wants to play right away” and “be on the field right away.” That’s a good attitude for him to have, but it’s probably an unrealistic position for anyone else to adopt. Smith will have a learning curve, not to mention veterans to beat out.
“The guys who have already been there, they know what’s going on,” Smith said. “I don’t know too much what’s going on right now. You just try to get up under their wing and take everything from them because they know everything. They’ve been in the NFL. This is just my first year.”
Smith mentioned Trent Cole as one of the more helpful veterans. So what kind of wisdom has Cole imparted in their short time together?
"'You’re going to make mistakes,'" Smith said Cole told him. "'Just try to learn from them. Don’t ever get down on yourself.'"
That’s good advice. Especially in a town where other people are always willing to handle that last part for you.