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.”

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS

It's official: Eagles reach terms with WRs coach Mike Groh

It's official: Eagles reach terms with WRs coach Mike Groh

The Eagles' only vacant coaching position has been filled.

On Monday afternoon the team announced that it had reached terms with Mike Groh to be the new receivers coach.

“We are excited to add Mike Groh to our coaching staff," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said in a release from the team. "Mike brings with him a vast array of experience coaching wide receivers in the NFL and college. Over his career, he has demonstrated a great ability as a teacher and as a motivator and we look forward to him getting started in Philadelphia.” 

Earlier this month, after the receivers had a disappointing season, the team fired first-year receivers coach Greg Lewis and have been searching for his replacement. In addition to interviewing Groh, the team also interviewed Bills receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

While Lewis was an NFL position coach for the first time in 2016, Groh has a little more experience at the NFL level. Groh, 45, spent 2016 with the Rams as their receivers coach and passing game coordinator after three years with the Chicago Bears as their receivers coach.

Lewis was the only position coached fired after Pederson's first NFL season. The team finished 7-9 after a 3-0 start.

Groh was seemingly available because of the head coaching change in Los Angeles.

Before he made it to the NFL as a receivers coach with the Bears, Groh had a long coaching career at the college level. He rose to the level of offensive coordinator at Virginia under his father Al, who was the Cavaliers' long-time head coach.

Mike Groh's first coaching job came with the Jets in 2000, when his father had a one-year stint as their head coach.

Mike Groh was once a quarterback at Virginia before his father ever coached there.

While the Eagles' receivers wildly underperformed in 2016, Groh has coached two of the top free agents at the position: Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Britt.

The Eagles' coaching staff will be in Mobile, Alabama, this week to get a closer look at some top draft prospects, among them will be several talented receivers.