Marcus Smith was running with the third team on Thursday. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin were with the ones, Brandon Graham (lined up at right outside linebacker) ran with the twos opposite Bryan Braman, and Smith played left outside linebacker with the threes opposite Travis Long.
Similarly, cornerback Jaylen Watkins practiced with the third team during the practice session open to the media.
I wouldn’t read anything into this. This time last year Curtis Marsh was working with the first team instead of Cary Williams (this was during the sconce period of the Williams era) and Dennis Kelly was ahead of Lane Johnson on the depth chart at right tackle.
I think Kelly wants the rookies to earn their standing on the team, which makes sense. There's a good chance Smith and Watkins will make a move up the depth chart before long. More interesting to me is the fact that Smith seems to be spending the bulk of his time at LOLB, the spot that Barwin mans. Sheil will have more on this in the coming days.
-- I was a little surprised to see Mark Sanchez ahead of Matt Barkley to start. Maybe I shouldn't have been. Barkley hasn't established himself in the NFL yet; Sanchez is the veteran and has some accomplishments under his belt. Still, Barkley has been in this system for a full year. Sanchez just got here, yet starts out at No. 2.
Kelly called Barkley when they signed Sanchez to let him know they were bringing a veteran in.
"He told me just to compete. He always wants his quarterbacks at all levels, whether you're starting or not, to be competing against each other and that's how he laid it out to me."
Barkley said all the right things and is a professional, but didn't sound thrilled to be answering another round of questions about being the third-stringer.
-- A few early impressions: Smith looks the part. He is athletic, has noticeably long arms (34 inches) and moved pretty fluidly. During 7-on-7's he lined up over wide receiver Damaris Johnson at one point. Not only was that a fun contrast in size (6-3, 251 vs. 5-8, 170) but a reminder that Billy Davis wants/needs versatility out of his OLBs...Josh Huff didn't have any one play that caught my eye in particular, but he seemed to have some shiftiness and a little burst to his game...We were curious whether Darren Sproles still has the zip. At first glance the answer appears to be yes, he does...Nolan Carroll, working with the second team, flashed during one portion of team drills, flying in to break up a Mark Sanchez pass...Brandon Boykin picked Sanchez Thursday...Despite the last two notes, the veteran QB appeared to have a decent day.
-- Take the above impressions with a grain of salt. The guys were practicing in shorts.
-- Kelly was asked how far ahead the team is compared to this time last season.
"It's light years. I think for all of our guys they understand what we're doing. Every year, every day last year was a new insertion and it was a new play and it was the first time in the red zone, first time coming out, first time in two minute.
"So all those things for the veterans have all already been in, they've understood them. We've got a chance in the first, during phase two and rhythm to insert and do everything from that standpoint. It was against air. But it was obviously they've seen it, now we're spinning back and inserting it again."
Kelly thinks they're moving a little faster as a result and that they're getting more plays off during practice. The operation did seem to be running smoothly (and quickly) from what we saw on Thursday.