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.”

Traces of Andy Reid linger in Doug Pederson's 'physical' training camp philosophy

Traces of Andy Reid linger in Doug Pederson's 'physical' training camp philosophy

It's been 18 years since Andy Reid's first training camp as head coach of the Eagles. Those who were a part of it will never forget it.

"It was brutal," Doug Pederson said recently. "It was hot. It was long. It was physical. It was bruising.

"It was before the rule changes, so we hit all the time. We were allowed to go full two-a-days. They were physical practices. Just tough. Real tough."

Pederson was a 31-year-old quarterback with the Eagles that summer, and those ferocious Reid training camps helped shape the training camps he runs now as head coach of the Eagles.

Reid's first three training camps — 1999, 2000 and 2001 — were insane.

After a walkthrough on the first day the full team was together, the players were put through three consecutive days of full-pads, full-contact two-a-days and then begin the fourth day with another live, full-pads session.

So from 8:30 a.m. on Day 1 until 11:30 a.m. on Day 4, the team was on the field for seven live full-contact practices.

That's roughly 18 hours of contact in the span of 75 hours.

“Ask Duce (Staley), ask any of the guys who were here that summer, they still talk about it," Pederson said "It was hard, it was tough. We hit a lot that first year. I think coach was trying to send a message that we were going to be a physical football team.

"Obviously with the rule changes and the way the CBA is you can’t be that aggressive anymore, but it was tough. It did bring the team together. You learn to protect each other, you learn to practice and play fast, it definitely brought us together."

The rules have changed dramatically. At first, the NFL outlawed hitting in the afternoon practice, then eliminated pads in the afternoon practice, then eliminated the second practice entirely. An afternoon walkthrough is currently allowed, although the total time of both practices has to be less than four hours.

The current NFL collective bargaining agreement limits how often teams can hit during training camp, and Pederson — who worked under Reid as a player or assistant coach with the Eagles and Chiefs for a total of nine years — said he prefers as physical a camp as possible within the current rules.

"The two-a-days to start camp over a 3 ½-day period, obviously you can’t do that anymore," he said. "But at the same time, I can pick some spots and choose some days that we can go live.

"I don’t want to do it a ton in camp, but at the same time, guys have got to feel contact, they’ve got to feel the ground. You know, injuries are part of the game. Whether it’s in training camp or in the regular season, obviously you don’t like to see it, but at the same time we can be smart about it, protect each other and still be in pads and get the work done."

Pederson's 2017 camp gets underway Monday at the NovaCare Complex with rookies, quarterbacks and veterans who finished 2016 on Injured Reserve. The full team will be on the field for the first time Thursday.

We saw last year that Pederson's practices are dramatically more physical than those of Chip Kelly, who didn't believe in tackling to the ground at all.

“I think (practices vary depending on) the philosophy of each head coach around the league," Pederson said. "I just feel like this is what works for us.

"You’ve got to play in pads so might as well put them on and use them. Just getting the soreness out. You’ve just got to get used to hitting. It’s a physical game. You’ve got to learn how to tackle properly. Running backs have to learn how to get hit and protect the football, so I think it’s important to continue to have that.

"I do think there’s a fine line. Don’t get me wrong. You don’t go over the top with it. Plus, you’re only down to one practice a day right now.

"But I think you can maintain that physicality and you can maintain that hitting in camp and just be smart about it. It doesn’t have to be live every single day."

Pederson said there will be three live tackling days during camp this summer, the same as last year.

"I feel like it's important that the guys hit," he said. "It's a physical game, and it's hard sometimes just to show up on game day and just put the pads on and go hit if you haven't at least prepped them for it.

"Three live days, I think, is plenty. I think two of them are before Green Bay (preseason opener on Aug. 10) and one of them is after Green Bay, so it kind of … gets them into that physical mentality that you want, especially early in training camp."

Pederson also said he won't hesitate to make changes as camp continues depending on how he sees the players responding to the daily workload.

“If we need to increase it, we’ll increase it, if we need to back it down, we’ll back it down," he said. "I’m not naive. You stay in-tune with how they’re doing and adjust it however you need to."

What's the best play in Eagles history?

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What's the best play in Eagles history?

Throughout the week, we have asked fans help determine the best play in Philadelphia sports history. Today, upvote below to adavnce one Eagles play to the finals on Friday where five plays will face off to determine the top overall play.

Tune in to Philly Sports Talk at 5 p.m. to see which play will advanace to the final.