Despite selecting Marcus Smith with a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, it's clear the Philadelphia Eagles were not comfortable getting him on the field. The Louisville product played a mere total of 105 snaps as a rookie. Heading into his second year, however, Smith feels more well equipped to contribute. He says he's worked hard to improve.
"I went to [former NFL defensive end] Chuck Smith this offseason and I went to him and we did pass rush moves and different stuff to get me acclimated to how the NFL is," Smith said. " I think that’s what got me better."
The 23-year-old also changed his body by adding muscle and lowering his body fat percentage from 18 to 15.
"I put on 10 pounds," said Smith. "At first, I was 265. When I came back out here I went down to 260 because of all the practicing and stuff. So I’ll probably play during the season at 260, 255, or around that weight."
Smith went on to explain why bulking up was so important to him and his game.
"I just think it was strength and ability to knock the tackle back because in this league tackles are just as fast as you are so you have to be able to knock them back to be able to get to the quarterback so you can set your speed moves."
Another factor working in Smith's favor is that he's no longer a rookie learning the scheme. He's also no longer being bounced between outside and inside linebacker. The Eagles have Smith exclusively working on the outside.
"I would say 100 times more comfortable than I was last year," said Smith. "Being athletic is all well and good but once you get the technique down and all that stuff, you become a better outside linebacker. You can’t just be an athletic person in this league. You have to have great technique."
Chip Kelly agreed with Smith's assessment. The Eagles head coach recently gave his evaluation of Smith's progress.
"Yeah, I think he's obviously way advanced from last year and he's not a rookie, but you could say that about Josh Huff and all those other guys that are in the second year. It's neat to see them taking the young guys and explaining things how they go because it’s not their [first time]. This won't be Marcus' first time going into the Linc [Lincoln Financial Field], and it's other guys’ first time going into the Linc. I think he feels more comfortable. He came back in really good shape, did a great job in the conditioning test and ran around the last two days. We are excited to see how that progresses and what goes on with the outside linebackers to go along with [Brandon Graham] and [Connor Barwin]."
As a rookie, Smith was stuck behind starting outside linebackers Trent Cole and Barwin as well as top backup Graham. The landscape at the position has since changed. Cole is gone and Graham now projects to be a starter after being rewarded with a long-term contract in the offseason. It's up to Smith to fill the rotational role Graham played the last two year. Smith is aware of the importance of that role, but he's not striving to be merely a backup.
"[The third outside linebacker] is a big deal to the team," said Smith. "He comes in, he spells Connor [Barwin] or [Brandon Graham], and he gets the play started. That’s how we work it for the Eagles. But my initial thought is, shoot, I want to start. I want to be a starter. But if that’s the role I have to play, then that’s what I’ll do."
Smith won't be starting for the Eagles any time soon with Graham and Barwin in front of him. If an injury should arise, however, the Eagles would likely be counting on Smith to start, especially now that Travis Long is out for the season.
It goes without saying that this is an important summer for Smith. It's up to him to step up and prove he provides value to the team, even if it's not the kind typically expected from a first round pick.