Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Marcus Smith II was the 26th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s safe to say Smith came nowhere even close to living up to his draft slot. At the time, he was billed as a “project” but those type of players usually at least some sort of promise in practice. Yet that didn’t happen with Smith during his rookie campaign, he couldn’t even make an impression during practice…we talking about practice!
But seriously, enough Allen Iverson quotes, Smith had an awful rookie season. He played just 74 total snaps during the regular season, totaling a remarkable 2 quarterback hurries, 1 quarterback hit, 0 sacks and 0 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. To put it into perspective, there were times where Eagles’ starting defensive players such as outside linebacker Connor Barwin played more snaps than that in a single game!
It’s easy to see why fans are done believing in Smith after such a horrific rookie campaign. But this year Smith seems to be a new man, both physically and mentally. Smith has put on 15 pounds and is finally making standout plays during practice. Earlier this week, Smith may have had the best practice of his NFL career, according to Tim McManus of Birds 24/7:
On that day, Smith made Twitter explode by apparently putting offensive linemen Dennis Kelly on his bottom during pass rushing drills. In college, Smith was a deadly pass rusher but many believed he relied on his athleticism a bit too much and that wasn’t going to transfer to the NFL. Now it seems that Smith is focusing on using his technique and strength to rush the passer which will bode well for his future. Here’s how Jimmy Kempski of Philly Voice reported the play during practice:
What’s especially notable to me, and this likely sounds weird, is that Smith followed the move up with a celebratory dance. That is something that we’ve never seen from Smith during his days in the NFL. As a rookie, it seemed like everything was too much for Smith and wasn’t really letting himself relax. Now in his second year, with an improved build and likely better grasp of life in the NFL, Smith seems to finally have become comfortable. Here’s how Smith recalled the play against Kelly, according to Jeff McLane of Philly.com:
"“I did kind of a stutter-step to get him off his feet and then I bull-rushed him,” Smith said. And, boy, did he get Kelly off his feet. Smith drove the 6-foot-8, 321-pound Kelly back as if he were on skates and, finally, onto his rear end. Smith then did a dance as his defensive teammates jumped around him (and over the fallen Kelly). “I don’t know what that really was,” Smith said. “I was just happy that I finally conquered the move that I really wanted to do. Now I can bring other moves.”"
It’s important that Smith gains his confidence, as a pass rusher, having confidence is vital. If a player doesn’t believe they are going to beat whoever is blocking them, then they’ve already lost the battle. Now that Smith is developing his repertoire of moves, he’ll likely be more effective as a pass rusher on the field. His first test will come against the Indianapolis Colts this Saturday, a huge opportunity for Smith in his road to re-writing his tarnished name.
Smith wants to wipe away his rookie year and start with a clean slate, he can do so by having a stellar performance during the team’s preseason games. With former Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole now on the Colts and Travis Long done for the season after another unfortunate knee injury, the third outside linebacker spot on the depth chart is there for the taking. Now it’s all up to Smith to go out and prove that the work he’s done this offseason has paid off.
During his rookie campaign, either preseason or regular season, Smith failed to register a single sack. Considering the Eagles drafted Smith to address their pass rush, that’s a huge disappointment. But judging by Smith’s performance this offseason and his new-found swagger, we may be looking at a brand new player in 2015. You can only do so much during practice but the time is now for Smith to erase his label as a “bust” and prove he deserves a role in Philadelphia’s defense.
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