Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis doesn't expect Trent Cole to play this week due to a broken hand injury. Davis wouldn't rule out Cole for the team's Week 17 game, but he did say this week looks doubtful for the veteran outside linebacker.
With Cole out, former first round pick Brandon Graham will start in his place. Graham has played well in limited playing snaps this year so Davis is confident there won't be much of a drop-off. But where things get unclear is the depth behind Graham and fellow starter Connor Barwin. Davis noted Bryan Braman, who is mostly a special teams contributor, will serve as depth. And so will rookie first round pick Marcus Smith II.
In other words, the Eagles are moving Smith II back to the outside linebacker position after an in-season switch to inside linebacker. The Eagles were originally projecting Smith II at outside linebacker entering the season but felt it was necessary to make a change due to the plethora of injuries the Eagles suffered on the inside.
Davis admitted the position change has stunted Smith II's growth. "We set him back by moving him," Davis admitted. When asked if the rookie's future is on the outside or inside, Davis' answer was brutally honest: "I'm not positive right now." Though, he did add: "I would say outside first, but I still think the jury’s still out."
Smith II has played a total of 105 snaps through the first 15 weeks of his career. The rookie now has four DNPs and has been inactive twice
To Smith II's defense, the players in front of him have been playing well. Cole, Barwin, and Graham have all good seasons on the outside. On the inside, Casey Matthews has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles while filling in separately for Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Some will wonder why Smith II can't play over Matthews, but it shouldn't come as a total shock that a rookie who is learning a new position can't get on the field over a player who has played it for several years.
Still, unless the plan was to sit out Smith II all along this season, which some will label as a curious strategy for a first round pick, his lack of contributions have been disappointing for Philadelphia. The fact that Davis doesn't seem to know where he fits in the long-term doesn't seem to bode well as a vote of confidence, either. Smith II still has plenty of time in his career to prove he was the worth the pick the Eagles used on him. But that time won't be coming this season.