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.”

Philadelphia to host 2017 NFL draft

Philadelphia to host 2017 NFL draft

The 2017 NFL draft is coming to Philadelphia, NBC10 confirmed. Philadelphia has been long-rumored to be the front-runner to host the 2017 draft. On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported that the draft was officially coming to Philly. A press conference is scheduled for noon Thursday at City Hall.

Back in early July, U.S. congressman Bob Brady told the Philadelphia Daily News that the draft was coming to Philly, but the city and the NFL told NBC10 and CSNPhilly.com that it wasn't yet a done deal at that time.

Now, it is.

While the draft is coming to Philadelphia, it's unclear where the actual event will be held. Philadelphia and Los Angeles were the reported frontrunners. Philly hasn't hosted the draft since December 1960, when it was held at the Warwick Hotel.

The Eagles don't have a first-round pick in 2017 after trading up to No. 2 to take Carson Wentz this past spring.

For the last two years, the draft was held in Chicago after New York hosted the event for many years.

Eagles' WRs embracing being one of youngest groups in modern NFL history

Eagles' WRs embracing being one of youngest groups in modern NFL history

There's no veteran to show them the way. No older guy who's seen it all to look to for advice. Nobody who’s been around forever to share his wisdom and stories and knowledge.
 
The Eagles’ oldest wide receiver is Josh Huff, who's 24. The Eagles’ most experienced wide receiver is Jordan Matthews, who's started 23 games. The Eagles’ average wide receiver? He’s 23 years old.
 
There’s always a chance the Eagles will add a veteran wide receiver before opening day a week from Sunday against the Browns. 
 
But right now? They have one of the youngest wide receiver crews in modern NFL history.
 
Matthews and Huff are 24. Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham  and Paul Turner are 23. David Watford, Cayleb Jones and Marcus Johnson are all 22 or 23.
 
Of this group, only Matthews has more than 35 career receptions.
 
When the Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens earlier this week, it left them without a wide receiver older than 24.
 
“It’s crazy,” Matthews said. “My rookie year I was the youngest dude on the whole team. Now, me and Josh are the oldest. It’s kind of different but I like it.
 
“I like situations where everybody feels like they’ve got to go get it. Where everybody feels like they have to work. When guys get to year nine, year 10, you see that, like, ‘OK, I got this.’ And that works for some people. But me personally? I like rooms where everybody feels like, ‘I’ve got to go get it.’”
 
Randle is only 25 and Givens 26, and each entered the NFL in 2012. So they’re not exactly nine- or 10-year veterans. But Matthews’ point is that he likes a wide receiver room where everybody is hungry and nobody is resting on their laurels.

This group has no real laurels to rest on.
 
Matthews has the 10th-most receptions in NFL history after two years, but Huff (35 catches, three TDs), Agholor (23 catches, one TD) and Green-Beckham (32 catches, four TDs) have a combined 90 career receptions and eight TDs.
 
The other receivers still on the roster — Turner, Jones, Johnson and Watford — are all undrafted rookie free agents.
 
“Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, those are the two leaders in the room right now, but we have some young guys who are ready to step up and ready to go and obviously Howie (Roseman) and Doug (Pederson) and Joe (Douglas) and all those guys that make the decisions up there feel really comfortable with who we have," backup quarterback Chase Daniel said.
 
“We’re excited about it because all those young receivers, they want to learn, they really do, and they’re putting in the time and the work not just during practice but after practice as well and in meetings.
 
“Fastest way to gain experience is to play, and they just need more playing time and once they get more comfortable with Sam (Bradford) and me and and Carson (Wentz) and just everything out there and the scheme, they’re going to be just fine.”
 
Maybe.
 
Huff has certainly shown some flashes, including three catches for 60 yards and a rushing touchdown against the Colts Saturday night. Agholor is a first-round pick. Green-Beckham caught a touchdown in Indianapolis and led all NFL rookie receivers with 17 yards per catch last year.
 
But it’s incredibly rare for any NFL team to go into a season without a wide receiver older than 24.
 
If the Eagles don’t add a veteran receiver, they will become only the sixth team since 1970 without a wide receiver older than 24. Three of those teams were in the 1970s – the 1972 Falcons and 1978 and 1979 Jets.
 
The only teams in the last 35 years that played without a wideout 25 or older were the 1988 Chargers and 2000 Bengals.
 
So this is the youngest group in the NFL in 16 years.
 
“Looking back, being behind Jeremy Maclin and being behind Riley Cooper and being behind Jordan last year, being on the bench and just watching, I know what to expect now,” Huff said.
 
“I know what our group of receivers need in order to get where we want to go. We are young, and me and Jordan have to be the leaders of the group to take this group to where we want to go.
 
“It just falls on me and Jordan right now and we’re going to go out each and every day and perform the way we know how to perform and bring these guys along with us.”
 
The last time the Eagles went into a season without a wide receiver at least 25 years old was 1964.
 
There’s always been a Maclin, a Jason Avant, a James Thrash, an Irving Fryar, a Mike Quick.
 
Not always the best receiver on the team, but a guy who fills that leadership role, leads by example, always has time to advise and guide the younger guys and has a wealth of experience to draw from.
 
Right now, that role belongs to Matthews, who just turned 24 in July.
 
“Going to Vanderbilt, you can play as hard as you want to but you still get no respect, so you stop playing for public opinion and you start just going out there and playing for the guy next to you and to get respect from your opponents and your teammates ultimately,” Matthews said.
 
“So I like a room like that. I feel like we’ve got young guys and it’s, ‘OK, DGB, you can’t take a day off. Nelson you can’t take a day off. Josh, you can’t take a day off.’ And me, I definitely can’t take a day off. So when you have that type of room, you can say really, ‘Forget the outside, let’s hone in on what’s going on in here, and let’s go out and make plays.’”
 
Green-Beckham, like Huff, like Agholor, is kind of an unknown. You can’t help see his boundless potential. He’s big, he can run, he’s got great hands.
 
But nobody really knows what to expect from him after the Titans gave up on him so quickly.
 
“It is a young group, but that’s good because that means [we] have a lot of room to develop,” Green-Beckham said.
 
“But we can’t look at it as a young group. We have to go out there and make plays. And if we don’t have that older guy, whatever we know as football players, we’ve got to help each other out.
 
“We’re all smart. If we see anything new, see anything, a missed assignment, we hold each other accountable. ‘Hey, I ain’t trying to get on you but you can do this better, you can do that better.’ That’s the room we have, and I like that.”
 
Huff knows how much outsiders doubt this group, and he understands it. He's been a disappointment. Agholor has been a disappointment. DGB was a disappointment with the Titans.
 
But he also believes the Eagles can win with this group.

“Every play’s not going to be perfect,” Huff said. “You’re not going to catch every ball, and that’s just part of the game and you’ve got to understand that and you can’t beat yourself about that.
 
“But what I know is that this group of receivers that we have, at any given time of the game, we can make plays, and I truly, wholeheartedly believe that. And we’ve just got to get it out of everybody in the group and not just Jordan. We know we can make plays but everybody has to believe they can make plays so it comes down to confidence and just being aggressive when the ball is in the air.
 
“See the ball, catch the ball, and if you don’t, just move on to the next play.”
 
Matthews is only 24 but carries himself like a veteran and can’t help but lead the people around him.
 
He doesn’t try to do it, it just happens organically.
 
But Matthews said he'll have to focus more than ever on leadership and guidance now that he’s the only established receiver on the team.
 
“I take it upon myself to be the leader of the group but at the same time I’m not the type of guy who’s going to be calling people out,” he said. “I don’t raise my voice around anybody. That’s just not the way I go about things.
 
“I have to go out and practice hard every single day, always have my clipboard out, and then just be around the guys when they need it. That’s the role I take, and I know Josh has been trying to do the same thing, just working on his consistency in the field and in the meeting room.
 
“It’s definitely a different dynamic. We don’t have that Jeremy Maclin there who’s seven years in. We just don’t have that. But I do like what we’ve got. I like the fact that everybody has to go out and every day and feel like, ‘We gotta go get it.’
 
“The second somebody thinks that they got it? All of us can get humbled real quick. So don’t even get to that point. Let’s just keep knocking on the door and continue to work on being successful.”

Beau Allen, Taylor Hart prove they’re scheme fits, outlast competition

Beau Allen, Taylor Hart prove they’re scheme fits, outlast competition

Plenty of people outside the Eagles’ organization — and probably a few inside — doubted that Beau Allen and Taylor Hart would be able to play in Jim Schwartz’s aggressive 4-3 defense. 

But Allen and Hart never doubted themselves. 

“I think for whatever reason, we got brought in to two-gap and I think we got labeled as two-gappers, and for whatever reason, that kind of stuck,” Allen said. “And when people think of two-gappers, they think, ‘This guy will stay on blocks and aren’t as athletic.’ I guess what I’m trying to say I think there’s a different perception between guys that two-gap and guys that play in the defense we play. 

“We’ve known all along that we can do this. And I think all the guys in the locker room have known that. It’s just kind of flipping that switch in your brain and getting used to a new mentality and scheme and being comfortable in it.”

Over the past month, they’ve shown they can indeed fit in Schwartz’s defense. 

Allen and Hart were drafted in the seventh and fifth rounds, respectively, in the 2014 draft. Allen was seen as a prototypical nose tackle and Hart a 3-4 end. While Allen played in an attacking defense in college, Hart had never played a 4-3 tackle in college or the pros. 

Still, they have both seemingly earned spots on the Eagles’ 53-man roster. 

“I hope that the play I’ve done out here in these three preseason games has shown that I’m not just a 3-4 guy,” Hart said. “I can play both schemes.”

For a long time, veteran free agent pickup Mike Martin was considered not just a roster lock, but also a rotation player on the defensive line. He worked as the third tackle for a lot of the offseason before hurting his knee. He missed a couple weeks and was recently cut. 

So how did Martin go from being a contributor to off the team?  

“The knee just never came back,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It just never bounced back, and it is hard. It's tough for players and veteran players like that. You're making decisions that are kind of out of his control.”

With Martin gone, the top two backup tackles appear to be Allen and Hart, while undrafted rookies Destiney Vaeao and Aziz Shittu appear to be on the outside looking in.

With a roster spot already likely locked in, Allen will play in the preseason finale against the Jets, where he joked he hopes to pad his stats. Hart’s preseason is already over. He has knee and ankle injuries that will keep him out for the Jets' game, but Pederson said Hart will be ready for the opener. 

Ready for the opener? That sounds like Hart has already won a job. 

“I didn’t hear that,” Hart said. “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

Allen and Hart roomed together during their rookie seasons and remain close friends. They also worked incredibly hard this offseason to pickup a new defense and shed that “two-gapper” label. 

One guy who might not be as surprised about Allen and Hart’s success in the defense is the guy in charge of it. Back in early August, before the pair showed what they could do in a game, Schwartz was asked about them and said, “Don’t sell those guys short. Just because that's what they were asked to do doesn't mean [that’s] the only thing [they’re capable of doing].

Turns out he was right. 

Was there ever really that preconceived notion that they couldn’t play in this defense? 

“Maybe from you guys (media),” Hart said with a smile. “I believed in myself.”

It looks like that belief is paying off.