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.”

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- The Latest on a fatal traffic crash in Arizona involving a Dallas Cowboys bus (all times local):

6:55 p.m.

Four people were killed when a Dallas Cowboys bus collided with a van in Arizona.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr says all the fatalities in the Sunday crash were passengers in the van.

Mehr didn't say what led to the crash on U.S. Highway 93 in western Arizona.

Dallas Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple says the bus had no players, only staff members on board. They suffered "bumps and bruises."

According to the Department of Public Safety, the collision occurred about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman.

The bus was en route to Las Vegas for an afternoon fan event where organizers say the team's mascot was expected to appear.

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6:30 p.m.

A spokesman for the Dallas Cowboys says passengers on a team-owned bus escaped serious injury in a collision with another vehicle that killed at least one person in Arizona.

Team spokesman Rich Dalrymple says people on the bus suffered only "bumps and bruises" in the Sunday crash on U.S. Highway 93.

Dalrymple didn't say if any players or staff were onboard the bus.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety says the collision occurred about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, in western Arizona.

The agency said it was a fatal crash but couldn't immediately confirm the number of people killed.

The bus was heading to an afternoon fan event in Las Vegas where organizers say the team's mascot was expected to appear.

Previewing Eagles 2016 training camp: A to Z

Previewing Eagles 2016 training camp: A to Z

The Eagles officially kick off training camp on Monday morning, when rookies, select veterans and quarterbacks report to the NovaCare Complex. 

The rest of the team will show up on Wednesday, which leads into the first full team practice on Thursday afternoon at 3:30. From there, things don’t really stop until the season ends in January. 

But every season starts with training camp. This will be the first under head coach Doug Pederson and the first as Eagles for many rookies and free agent pickups. 

Let’s take a look at this year’s training camp from A to Z: 

A – Nelson Agholor: Agholor wasn’t charged with sexual assault stemming from an incident at a South Philadelphia gentlemen’s club in June, but that doesn’t mean he’s past it. The second-year receiver will undoubtedly be asked about the incident the first time he fields questions from reporters and likely won’t say much. He’s lucky most of the incident is behind him, however, because the last thing he needs is a distraction. Agholor is coming off an extremely disappointing rookie season and has a chance to turn things around by earning a starting receiver job. He could be one of the biggest keys to the Eagles’ offense in 2016. 

B – Bucs. Mark it on your calendars, folks: the first preseason game of 2016 is on Aug. 11 against Tampa Bay at the Linc. It’ll be our first chance to see a ton of new players – including the No. 2 pick – in game action. 

C – Cornerback. One of the more intriguing position groups on this team for a few reasons. It looks like one of the starting corner jobs is going to belong to free agent pickup Leodis McKelvin. But the other? Well, it could belong to Nolan Carroll or Eric Rowe or Ron Brooks or even rookie Jalen Mills. And then one guy will have the opportunity to play the slot. During the spring, Brooks played outside and slid into the slot in the Nickel. 

Aside from the top of the roster, there’s intrigue among the last few corners on the roster. Simply put: there are too many talented young players than there are roster spots. 

D – Days off. There aren’t many. Training camp is a brutal few weeks. From the start of camp until the first game on Aug. 11, players have off just two days (Aug. 2, Aug. 9) and 15 practice days. 

E – Early mornings. If training camp isn’t brutal enough, practices are starting mighty early. Once the entire team gets to camp, practices will start at 8:15 a.m., which is when Andy Reid used to hold his camp practices. 

F – Fullback. Under Doug Pederson’s offense, a fullback will be used. Now, the Eagles don’t have a traditional FB on the roster, so this job will belong to either Trey Burton or Chris Pantale, who are both listed as tight ends. Pantale worked with the first team at fullback in the spring, while Burton got some second-team snaps, but Pederson made sure to note that he wanted to see both of them play the position when the hitting started at training camp. Here’s his chance. 

G – Chris Givens. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar player to become a fan and media favorite during camp, look no further than Givens. He had a very good spring and his rapport with starting QB Sam Bradford was clearly on display. Givens can catch short passes, but his ability to stretch the field will be more fun to watch. With a base salary of just $760,000, he could be a huge bargain. 

H – Hitting. It’s something we didn’t see a lot of during the last three years of training camps under Chip Kelly. He preferred to keep things lighter, in terms of hitting, to prevent injuries. Pederson’s philosophy is different and more like Reid’s. The Eagles will hit at training camp. At times, they will have live (tackle to the ground) periods. It will much more closely resemble actually football than what Kelly had the team doing for the last three years. 

I – Isaac Seumalo. Through no fault of his own, the rookie third-round pick missed all of OTAs this spring because of the NFL/college graduation rule. Seumalo was able to stay in touch with his coaches through the marvels of modern technology, but he still missed a ton. And now he’s playing catch-up. Will he have enough time to wrestle away the starting left tackle job from Allen Barbre? Not sure. First, though, he’ll need to surpass top backup Stefen Wisniewski, who also has his eyes set on that starting left guard spot. 

J – Jason Peters. For whatever reason, Peters declined to talk to the media all spring. We’ll try again during training camp. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t thrilled about all the talk of his decline in play, which, while it might be unpleasant for him, is hard to argue. Peters is 34 and his eventual successor Lane Johnson signed a long-term deal this offseason. Still, Peters is a big key to the Eagles’ offensive success in 2016. 

K – Kicker. Caleb Sturgis or Cody Parkey will win this job and you may not care. But you probably should. Sturgis looked better in the open practices this spring, but Parkey is recovering from a serious injury and will have every chance to win his old job back. 

L – Linebackers. This is perhaps the scariest position on the roster in terms of depth. Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks have lengthy injury histories and Nigel Bradham is somewhat of an unknown. Still, it might be a solid starting group. But after them? Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner, Joe Walker and a few undrafted rookies. Yikes.  

M – Most at stake. There are several players who can earn a roster spot or even a starting job over the next few weeks. I outline them here

N – NovaCare Complex. For the fourth straight year training camp will be held in South Philadelphia and it doesn’t look like it’ll be heading back to Lehigh University anytime soon. This is sad in some ways because it was a lot of fun up there, but it’s hard to blame Pederson for choosing convenience over team-building. 

O – Open practices. This is the part of having camp at home that really stinks. When it was at Lehigh, fans could get a really good look at their team and I know many took the opportunity to make a mini vacation of it. This year, there are just two open practices, on July 31 at 10 a.m. and Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. 

Both open practices are at Lincoln Financial Field and do not require tickets. Seating is first-come, first-serve. Parking for the practices is free in K Lot, which will open at 7 a.m. (gates open at 8) on July 31 and 4 p.m. (gates open at 5) on Aug. 14. Keep in mind, the NFL’s clear bag policy will be in effect. Concessions will be open during those practices. 

P – Doug Pederson. Obviously, a lot of eyes are going to be on Pederson as he enters his first year as a head coach in the NFL. We got a sense of what his practices are going to look like from OTAs, and they’re going to be much different than the ones Kelly ran. Slower pace, more teaching. Really, a more traditional look. 

Q – Quarterbacks. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, the Eagles have invested a ton of money and resources into the quarterback position. They re-signed Sam Bradford, signed Chase Daniel, then moved up from 13 to 8 to 2 to draft Carson Wentz. Pederson and his offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who are both former NFL QBs, have obviously put a ton of stock in the position. How will it all shake out this season? We’re not sure yet, mostly because injuries are impossible to predict, but we’ll certainly be watching. 

R – Rookies. Wentz is the first quarterback the Eagles have taken this high in a draft since Donovan McNabb. Yeah, people are going to be watching him. But the Eagles have plenty of other draft picks and undrafted rookies in camp, 26 in all. Now, not many are considered to be candidates to make impacts this year, but a few could. 

S – Jim Schwartz. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator is almost as important as the head coach. He’s charged with turning around a unit that has been very bad for the last few years. He has some new pieces to go along with his 4-3 scheme. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to watch. 

T – TV. The first two preseason games will be simulcast on CSNPhilly and COZI TV. The last two preseason games will be on NBC10. CSNPhilly will also replay all the games (see story)

U – Under the microscope. For the last few years, Fletcher Cox has way out-performed his rookie contract. To out-perform his new deal, he’ll have to become a perennial Pro Bowler. He’s clearly the best player on the team – and the Eagles paid him like it – but now it’s time for him to show he’s worth the money. And Cox isn’t the only one. Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Vinny Curry also got big money in long-term deals. 

V – Destiny Vaeao. Aside from linebacker, the position with the biggest depth concern is probably defensive tackle. After starters Cox and Bennie Logan, there’s Mike Martin, who is probably the top backup. Then there’s Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, who are questionable scheme fits. That leaves the door open for an undrafted rookie to make the team here, and the top one this spring was Vaeao from Washington State. Now, Aziz Shittu from Stanford might push for a roster spot, but he missed all spring because of the NFL/college graduation rule.  

W – Carson Wentz. The No. 2 pick’s first training camp. Everyone’s gonna be watching. The thing we really have to look forward to is seeing Wentz playing in the preseason games, where he should get significant snaps. 

X – X’s and O’s. Since training camp will actually resemble real football, the X’s and O’s will be important. We’ll see if Pederson’s offense will have some downfield influence from Frank Reich. And then we’ll get a chance to see what Schwartz’s defense is all about. How quickly will the returning players figure it out? 

Y – Year 2 and 3 players. Plenty of folks will be watching the rookies, specifically Wentz, but there are several players entering their second and third years in the league who need to make more of an impact. To name a few: Agholor, Josh Huff, Marcus Smith. All early-rounders who haven’t hit their potential. 

Z – Zoo. Under Kelly, there just seemed to be much more media hype around the Eagles, especially last year. Plenty thought the Birds were legitimate Super Bowl contenders, Kelly was always intriguing, and the team made some major offseason moves. This year, there’s Wentz, but not nearly the expectations in 2016. With the headlines and radio airwaves the Sixers have gotten in town recently, the Eagles have been on the back burner. Don’t expect this to last long though. After all, this is a football town.

Eagles re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Eagles re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Eagles are bringing back a familiar face at quarterback, and no, it's not Tim Tebow. 

The team will re-sign quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The signing was first reported by ESPN's Adam Caplan

With the addition, the current roster is capped out at 90 after the signings of former Villanova LB Don Cherry and Alabama S Nick Perry (see story).  

The Eagles first signed Bethel-Thompson in February to pair with Mark Sanchez at the lone quarterback on the roster. A lot has changed since then, with the team re-signing Sam Bradford and drafting Carson Wentz. Bethel-Thompson was then cut by the Eagles in May. 

Bethel-Thompson has been in the NFL since 2011, after going undrafted out of Sacramento State. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder has spent time with the Dolphins, the Vikings twice, Patriots and the 49ers three times. He has never played in a game. 

It'll be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old to make the roster with the quarterback position locked up with Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz.