Call it a rocky first season in the NFL, and that's an understatement. Marcus Smith couldn't gain a bit of traction after the Eagles selected him in the first round of last year's draft. He played 68 snaps on defense. Total. Out of 1,158 snaps available. That's 6 percent of the snaps. That's no footing.
Smith, the 26th overall pick in the spring of 2014, isn't a defeated man. He's still working hard. He has a good mental outlook. He wants to be a great NFL player.
And now is the time to show it, because there is playing time to be had at the outside linebacker position behind starters Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.
But for Smith, there is no sure thing. He isn't going to be handed playing time. He has to earn his place on the roster and then, as part of the deal, convince the coaches that he can be an asset on the field both on defense and on special teams.
No guarantees. No sure thing. Smith has to make that quantum step that many players make from Year 1 to Year 2 in the league.
So where is Smith in his development? It's hard to say, honestly. His time on the field during the spring was compromised by a groin injury that seemed healed enough at the end of the mandatory minicamp that he was on the field, taking reps. He took a lot of reps, all of them at the outside linebacker position after shuttling back and forth between outside and inside and then outside again as a rookie. Smith has gained weight and is a stronger player physically than he was a year ago, all good things.
Smith has to be a factor right away in August, when training camp begins. There is no sense that he's a sure thing for the third linebacker job, or even a roster spot. The coaching staff wants competition across the board and at the outside linebacker position Smith has to beat out Travis Long, Bryan Braman and Brad Jones, to name three players. It's not a given. Nothing is. Head coach Chip Kelly wants to see his players on the field for training sessions and he wants them smart and physical and committed to being the most productive they can be.
So Smith has a tall order. He's got to bring it in the training sessions and then he has to show up big time in the preseason games. He has to be physical and play the game with a purpose. Smith has a working understanding of the defense, which should allow him to play faster than he did as a rookie. He's stronger now, which should give him more pop physically.
I see Smith as one of the key young players to watch in August. Does he step up and play the role as the backup linebacker and bring it off the edge? Does he have enough, even, to beat out Long or Braman or Jones for a spot on the 53-man roster? Seems like anything is possible with a roster that has turned over so much, one that Kelly continues to shape in his vision. Smith has to prove he can contribute in his second season. Sixty-eight snaps isn't going to cut it in Year 2.