New Eagle Marcus Smith surprised to go in 1st round

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New Eagle Marcus Smith surprised to go in 1st round

Virtually nobody had Marcus Smith going in the first round. Nobody except the Eagles.

And Smith thinks he knows why.

“Maybe because of my junior film,” Smith said after the Eagles selected him with the 26th pick in the NFL draft (see story).

“Maybe they thought this was just a one-year thing -- ‘He busted on the scene.’ Maybe because I didn't do well my junior year, only had four sacks.

“A lot of people kind of brushed me to the side.”

You’re not the only one surprised the Eagles took Smith in the first round.

He was, too.

"I had a feeling I would [go in the first round], but I didn't know exactly,” the newest Eagle said from Louisville late Thursday night. “I was looking at maybe early second, maybe even the third round.”

Smith (see bio), whose 14½ sacks as a senior ranked second in NCAA Division I, wasn’t projected anywhere nearly as high as the top two pass-rushing outside linebackers, Khalil Mack of Buffalo, who went fifth to the Raiders, and Anthony Barr of UCLA, who went No. 9 to the Vikings.

But Smith said he knows he can be the same kind of player in the NFL as Mack and Barr.

"I'm pretty much the same as those guys,” he said. “I can rush the passer and drop into coverage. I feel like I'm very athletic. I feel like I could have gone where those guys went as far as my talent goes, but I know how the draft goes. All you've got to do is get one team to love you, and I know the Eagles will take care of me.

“Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr are great players. I watched them on film a lot and some things they do I tried to take from them so I could add them to my game.”

Smith, who just turned 22 on March 31, played all over the defense at Louisville but was mainly a defensive end.

With the Eagles, he’ll play outside rush linebacker in Billy Davis’s 3-4 scheme.

The Eagles ranked 20th in the NFL with 32 sacks last year, 15 of which came in three games.

Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are currently penciled in as the starting outside linebackers, but Smith said he expects to contribute right away. Even though he’s still new to the position and really still new to playing defense.

"I know for a fact they want me to rush and go get the quarterback,” Smith said late Thursday night. “I can be a double-digit sack guy. Once I get into camp and get rolling and get into the groove, I really believe I can be that guy. I really do."

Smith, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, began his college career as a quarterback, but that didn’t last very long.

"There were two seniors in front of me my freshman year and I wasn't getting a lot of reps and I wasn't doing too well throwing the ball,” he said.

“Coach [Charlie] Strong asked if I wanted to play defense, and I said I'll do whatever it takes to get on the field. We were in two-a-days, and the second practice that day he put me on defense and I never went back.”

That could help explain why Smith didn’t really make an impact early in his college career.

But Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said Smith’s upside is one of the things that was appealing to the Eagles, and Smith said he feels like he still has a ton of improvement to make.

"It took me a year to settle in coming from quarterback to linebacker because I had to get the mentality of a defensive player, knocking people off on that side of the ball,” he said.

“I've gotten better each year and this year had an outbreak and feel like I can carry everything I did this year into the NFL. I want to make an impact right away and I know the coaches in Philly can get me ready for this season coming up.”

Smith is the first linebacker the Eagles have drafted in the first round in 35 years, since Jerry Robinson out of UCLA in 1979.

He said he has plenty of experience dropping back in coverage, something outside linebackers need to do in Davis’s scheme.

“I believe they dropped me about 50-50,” he said. “Maybe not as much my junior year but last year they dropped me more. Going into the middle of the season I started rushing a lot more because they wanted somebody to get to the quarterback, but I was doing both.

“I've gotten better each year and this year had an outbreak and feel like I can carry everything I did this year into the NFL. I want to make an impact right away.

"I think I have not reached my full potential yet. I continually trying to work every day. I know I have a lot of stuff to polish up and a lot of stuff I have to work on. I think once I get around the right people an around the league I'll be the great player that I want to be.”

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past." 

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

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Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

Cortez Kennedy, one of the best defensive linemen of his generation and a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee despite rarely finding himself in the spotlight as a player, has died. He was 48.

Police in Orlando, Florida, say the former Seattle Seahawks star was found dead Tuesday morning. Orlando Police Department public information officer Wanda Miglio said the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown but that there is nothing suspicious about his death. An investigation is being conducted.

"Cortez Kennedy has been a pillar of the Seahawks franchise since joining the team as a rookie in 1990," the Seahawks said in a statement. "Tez was the heart and soul of the Seahawks through the 1990s and endeared himself to 12s all across the Pacific Northwest as a player who played with a selfless and relentless approach to the game. ... We are proud to have been represented by such a special person."

A star who spent his entire 11-year NFL career in relative obscurity playing in Seattle, Kennedy became the second Seahawks player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He was an unmovable wall as a dominant defensive tackle, and a quiet, gentle soul away from the field never interested in finding himself in the spotlight.

"Cortez will be remembered not only for all his great achievements on the football field but how he handled himself off the field," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said. "He epitomized the many great values this game teaches which serves as inspiration to millions of fans."

Kennedy was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Miami and Seattle smartly never let him leave. He brought notoriety to an otherwise dreadful period in Seahawks history as an eight-time Pro Bowler and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992.

"Really sad to lose a guy like Cortez Kennedy," Broncos' general manager John Elway tweeted Tuesday. Elway was chased around by Kennedy twice a year for much of the 1990s as competitors in the AFC West. "A great personality, a great player and I enjoyed competing against him."

Even though he last played for the Seahawks in 2000, he remained a significant part of the organization. He was a mainstay around the team during training camp and would occasionally roll through the locker room during the regular season grabbing a few minutes with anyone -- players, coaches, media -- up for a chat.

Kennedy was scheduled to be in Seattle on Thursday as part of an event for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

"My heart hurts," current Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt tweeted. "We lost a truly great player but even better person."

Kennedy experienced only minimal team success in his career with the Seahawks. His 1992 season, when Kennedy was the league's defensive player of the year, was made even more remarkable by the fact that his 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and 92 tackles came for a team that went 2-14 and was among the worst ever offensively in a 16-game season.

What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame. If he was asked to hold the line on a running play, he would regularly eat up two or three potential blockers.

But he could also rush the passer up the middle, a rarity for an interior defensive lineman. While 1992 was his best individual season, Kennedy recorded at least six sacks in six of his 11 seasons.

"(One) of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached," tweeted Jimmy Johnson , one of Kennedy's coaches at Miami. "... A sad day."