21 career games played. Three tackles. One and a half sacks. To say Marcus Smith has fallen short of expectations since being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft would be an understatement. Now in his third NFL season, it's time for the 24-year-old to do-or-die.
The good news for Smith is that he might find a way out of the doghouse with Chip Kelly gone. The former Eagles head coach never seemed to really like the Louisville alumnus all that much based on how he'd talk about him in press conferences. The most obvious sign was how Kelly didn't really trust Smith to play that much. The fact that Smith was a Howie Roseman pick never helped Smith's case, either.
Another thing that could be working in Smith's favor is his transition to 4-3 defensive end after struggling to show much at 3-4 outside linebacker over the past two seasons. Jim Schwartz has a knack for getting good production out of his defensive lineman. Perhaps Smith will excel more in an attacking defense as opposed to one where he was required to read and react.
Smith has had some nice moments during Eagles training camp. During one practice, he beat second team left tackle Matt Tobin multiple times for would-be sacks. Doug Pederson is encouraged by what he's seen out of the former first round pick.
"I tell you, gosh, a lot of energy right now," said Pederson when asked what Smith has shown. "He gives you good depth at the end position. Physical, starting to show that physicality that you want out of him in that position and has done a nice job. These last couple of padded practices, I've noticed him probably a little bit more, and just continued with the repetition with him and getting him some more reps. I think he'll be a valuable piece of that defense."
No one is realistically expecting Smith to suddenly have breakout season. The opportunity likely won't even be there for him, anyway. At best, Smith is the fourth defensive end in the rotation on this roster. He's stuck behind Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Connor Barwin -- all of whom are making starting money.
But just because Smith won't be a starter doesn't mean he can't provide value to the defense. If Smith is merely able to carve out a role as a situational pass rusher, that would be a significant step up from what little he's been able to provide the Eagles so far.
This summer is a big one for Smith. He needs to have a strong training camp and preseason in order to prove he's not the total bust most have already accepted him to be.
Watch Pederson's Wednesday press conference in the video below via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page.
Q. Are you pleased with the overall way they were hitting out there today?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, today was the first day that I had two live periods in practice and I felt like the energy was good and the competition was good. Anytime you do a short yardage and goal line situational football like that, the best thing to do is to go live. The guys like it and they responded well.
Q. RB Wendell Smallwood wasn’t out there today. What’s going on with him?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, he still has that quad strain, and he's still a few days away from being back out there.
Q. Now that you’re more than a week into your camp, how have things gone with your team? How do you assess what's going on at this stage?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, each day has gotten a little better. I felt like we started camp a little bit slow tempo-wise, we've picked it up here in the last couple days. This is going to be a nice little stretch for the guys. We've got these six days coming up and it's going to be pretty intense and pretty physical for them. So we'll get a better test of where they're at in a week or so, but I'm pleased with where they're at and where they're headed.
Q. We know who the starters are at safety, but can you assess the depth at the spot.? How is that position coming along with guys like S Blake Countess, S Ed Reynolds and CB Jaylen Watkins?
DOUG PEDERSON: All those guys are competing at that second or third safety spot. Right now it's a matter of just understanding their assignments. They're all gifted athletes and can play. They're showing up. Each one kind of has from day to day. Blake is learning the system and the terminology, and Ed has made some plays and is showing up from time to time. And then [S] Chris Maragos is a veteran guy that's really had a solid camp. As you know [Maragos is] a four-core special teams guy, and just looking for some quality competition in that room as we go, especially in these next couple weeks.
Q. How did RB Kenjon Barner handle the added workload today in practice?
DOUG PEDERSON: I thought he handled it well. His conditioning is good. It's improving. He got a little tired towards the end of practice, but, again, that's just the nature of the camp practice. But overall, I thought he did a good job. This will be a good film for him to watch: a good practice tape for him to watch to be able to make the necessary corrections. But he’s headed in the right direction.
Q. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the other day that when he joined the coaching staff there was a buzz about Barner. What have you seen from him? What is it about Barner that you think could be a valuable addition to the offense?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, he's an explosive guy with the ball in his hands. Pretty good out of the back field as a receiver. That's one area that he can improve there: route-running ability. But I love the fact that anytime you put the ball in his hand, he has the ability to make some big plays for you. He's shown that here in the first week of camp.
Q. WR Nelson Agholor has talked a lot in the offseason about putting a lot on himself after his disappointing year last year. How do you keep a young player from trying to do too much and just doing what he's capable of doing?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, it's a fine line because you definitely want those guys to step up and mature and understand their roles. You just continue to talk to them and just on a daily basis, just give him something he can focus on today, and then I'll give him something he can focus on tomorrow. Through all that, he'll rise up and he'll be the leader that we know he can be and be the type of player that we know he can be.
Q. It's obviously been a long time since this team has done live tackling drills, as the team didn’t do that in recent years. What do you see as the benefit to that?
DOUG PEDERSON: It's tackle football and it’s a physical game. The other thing about it, too, is it’s that competition. It's just knowing that we're actually going to put the pads on and go to the ground today. Because most of our periods are a fast-tempo thud where everybody's kind of staying up. But this is the first time that outside of [cut blocking] our own players, being able to tackle and really drive through guys, I think it's so important to be able to do that and be in the right position and the right place defensively. Offensively, you know, hat placement and where they're going to be, it just makes a difference. The tempo of that practice intensifies during those live periods.
Q. Did you sense the energy go up between the offense and defense during those live periods?
DOUG PEDERSON: Totally, totally. That's what you love to see. That's the competition, and that's what makes you better. This is the time of the year where you really get to see who is going to be with you and who you can take to the regular season. We had some good performances out there today.
Q. What have you seen from some of the undrafted free agent wide receivers like Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson and guys like that?
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, I tell you, Turner, PT, [WR Paul Turner] he's a kid that's really kind of understood our offense and understood his role. Cayleb is a big, tall kid, athletic and [if you] can kind of put the ball around him, he can make some plays for you. The other guys are [WR] Xavier Rush, a guy that's learning every single day. He's getting better every day. And the way we're kind of attacking practice right now, is everybody's getting equal reps just about, from the ones, twos, and threes, so it gives them a lot of opportunity to put some good work on film and let us coach those guys up.
Q. Is it fair to compare the running back situation here to what you guys experienced last year in Kansas City after Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles got hurt? Are you pulling on anything that you guys did last year once Charles went down?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, that's a fair statement. Yeah, I've pulled a little bit from how we handled that situation. Even in training camp, when we didn't let Jamaal take a lot of live snaps, we got our twos and threes and our fourth guy really a lot of time. This is valuable time. With Ryan [RB Ryan Mathews] hopefully coming back in the next couple of days, this is a great time for them. And with Wendell, not practicing right now, it's great for those guys to get so many reps and so many touches. It's just going to help the overall balance of the football team and put some good film on tape for a lot of people to see.
Q. In your experience, does more tackling in practice lead to more injuries?
DOUG PEDERSON: Listen, I've been around this business a long time to know that this is a contact sport and injuries are part of the game. I'm not going to shy away from the tackling or shy away from the hitting just to try not to get [anybody hurt]. Do you want anybody [to get hurt]? No, you don’t want anybody to get hurt. But at the same time, if we learn how to practice in pads and then take care of each other when we're in those situations, it's just going to make us a better football team down the stretch. The guys will learn how to practice and play fast, and that's what you want.
Q. Doug, it seems like TE Trey Burton is having a standout catch or two every day. Is that something you’re noticing? What kind of role are you envisioning for him on this team?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, Trey's done a really good job coming into camp and got himself ready to go. He had a good offseason, had a good 10 weeks in the spring. He's a guy that we're going to have to rely on a little bit. I love the fact that we have depth at the tight end position and [we can] move him around a little bit and create some match-ups. That's what you want out of guys like that. He's a versatile role player in that situation, and he's done a nice job.
Q. Once you guys lost Jamaal Charles last year, did you ask more of the running backs or QB Alex Smith? Did you turn to maybe more short passes, a ball control kind of thing?
DOUG PEDERSON: No, the mentality or the mindset was just, ‘Hey, the next guy up has got to go.’ It was that running back sort of by committee – [Chiefs RBs] Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware, and Knile Davis – and those guys did a great job. They knew their roles. They knew they were all going to play and they did a great job. They did a great job.
Q. CB Eric Rowe seemed to come alive today. Do you feel that now that the pads are on, do you feel he's really starting to come around?
DOUG PEDERSON: He's that type of player. He's a physical, good looking kid, and he loves the contact. He has. He's shown up the last couple of days and made some plays. Great competition at that spot, and we'll just continue to monitor that as we go through camp.