Uncertain about role, Marcus Smith being noticed

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Uncertain about role, Marcus Smith being noticed

About two dozen media members swarmed Jordan Matthews as he walked off the practice field Thursday afternoon.

Everybody loves talking to the rookie wide receiver.

A few minutes later, first-round pick Marcus Smith walked off the field, and almost nobody noticed.

Nobody seems all that interested in the rookie linebacker.

While Matthews has quickly become a media darling and fan favorite because of his non-stop hustle, team-first attitude and catchy sound bites, Smith has flown under the proverbial radar the first week of training camp.

It may seem like nobody is noticing the rookie first-round pick. But his teammates sure are.

And they can’t stop praising him.

“Rookies, you’ve got a lot on your plate, so it can get discouraging at times, but Marcus, he’s a high-spirit guy and he’s been good about it,” DeMeco Ryans said.

“He’s really stepped in and you really don’t see him as a rookie. He’s like one of us already, like a vet already, the way he’s stepped in and just meshed with everybody in the locker room.”

Unlike Matthews, who will start the season in the slot, Smith’s role is undefined right now, another reason he isn’t getting a ton of attention these days.

But a week into training camp, you’re starting to hear teammates and coaches talk about Smith in terms of what he can do instead of what he can’t do.

“He’s going to get on the field, he’s going to play,” Connor Barwin said. “It’s exciting to think what he’s going to be able to do, out there with Trent [Cole] or out there with me.

“The one area I’ve been impressed with him is his natural ability to cover. I think he’s very patient. He doesn’t know exactly where he needs to be yet — he knows a little bit but not exactly where receivers and backs might go. But you can see his athleticism in coverage.”

Smith has been repping at both outside linebacker spots but mainly at Barwin’s Jack position, a hybrid of setting the edge, stopping the run, dropping into coverage and rushing the passer.

“I’m just trying to teach him the defense, really,” Barwin said. “I’m just trying to let him know any tricks I know. I think he’s doing fine right now in camp. I think his head is spinning a little bit, but it’s a lot for a rookie, your first year. I’ve been there before.

“He’s picking everything up and just trying to tell him to improve and think about one little thing each day to improve on, and he’ll get where he needs to be.”

Smith has had a lot thrown at him in a short period of time, but he said he feels like he’s been able to stay on top of everything.

It only took him a couple days to move up with the second team, and the way defensive coordinator Billy Davis likes to substitute, significant reps once the regular season starts are a possibility.

“I was definitely going to come in and try to get it down pat as quickly as I could,” Smith said. “Not being in school and graduating, this is all I do, this is my life now, this is the world I live in, and I think it was a lot easier to grasp everything because you’re doing it every day.

“I want to show the team they can count on me when I’m in the game. Whenever they put me in the game, I can be the kind of guy who can go make a play.”

Nobody is concerned with Smith’s athleticism. That’s not an issue. It’s all about the mental side of it. His ability to match the mental side with the physical side over the next few weeks will determine how much he plays.

If any.

“The toughest thing for Marcus is him just getting the playbook down,” Ryans said. “We do a lot on defense, so for him it’s just getting it down.

“We’ve had a year to learn everything, so we’re all comfortable. But for Marcus and the other first-year guys, they really have to learn things on the fly, and that can be tough. But we just tell him, don’t get too overwhelmed with it, it’ll come.

“Marcus has been doing a really good job, been showing up, been making some plays for us. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”

You have to go pretty far back to find an outside linebacker who made an impact with the Eagles as a rookie.

Omar Gaither started a few games at outside backer at the end of 2006 and played OK, but you have to go back to 1996 and Ray Farmer to find a rookie who was a real difference maker. Farmer is now the Browns’ general manager.

“Marcus is a very hard worker and a very intelligent guy and very athletic,” Davis said. “So you have a bunch of characteristics that you look for in all Eagles players. He cares a lot about the game.

“He's picked it up fairly quickly, and one of the biggest things that attracted us to him was that Louisville and Charlie Strong's defense is a lot like ours, and the way they used him is a lot the way we use our Jack position.

“So he comes in not as an end, a 4‑3 end in college that we are converting to a 3‑4 outside backer. He's coming to us as a 3‑4 outside backer.”

Smith, just 22, said he no longer considers himself a rookie. He just doesn’t want to think that way.

Because if he gets in a game, he doesn’t want to think like a rookie. Or play like a rookie.

 “You know what, people might say you’re a rookie, but once you get out here on the football field, that rookie stuff goes out the window because they might need you right now,” he said.

“Because what if Connor Barwin goes down? What if Trent Cole goes down? What if I have to step in? That rookie stuff won’t matter because I have to go in there and make a play.

“That’s what I’m preparing to do. Be able to go make a play and help my team whenever I’m out there.”

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' best receiver, was back at practice again on Thursday. 

Matthews was a full participant on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday, which is a very good sign for the Eagles. Last week, he returned on Thursday, but then had to sit out Friday and missed Sunday's game. 

It was the first game Matthews had ever missed in his career. Even with the missed game, Matthews still leads the Eagles in receptions (57), receiving yards (686) and receiving touchdowns (3). 

Fellow receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) was on the practice field early but left as the Eagles began to stretch. He did not practice for the second straight day. 

Without Green-Beckham and with Matthews hobbled, the Eagles are light at receiver, with just Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles want to keep Turner involved in the game plan even with the return of Matthews. 

Ryan Mathews (knee) was on the practice field again on Thursday, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is still out. It looks like Vaitai will miss his third straight game this weekend.