Eagles Wake-Up Call: OLB Training Camp Preview
Leading up to training camp on July 25, we’ll have a position-by-position preview of the Eagles’ roster. We started with the defensive line and quarterbacks. Now it’s on to the outside linebackers.
The pressing question: How much will Marcus Smith contribute as a rookie?
This is one of the bigger overall summer questions for the Eagles. Moving from college to the NFL, rookies’ heads are often spinning during spring practices. They’re in a new place with new teammates, new coaches and a new playbook.
That’s why Smith spent most of OTAs and minicamp getting reps with the third team behind Connor Barwin and Bryan Braman at the Jack spot. Once he returns to the practice field in a couple weeks, coaches will expect him to start showing progress. While the Eagles drafted Smith with an eye on the future, they expect him to contribute this season.
Barring a setback, look for Smith to move up quickly to the second team. He’ll also start to learn the predator position. The smart bet is that Smith will begin the season as a rotational player behind Barwin and Trent Cole. But the coaches won’t throw him out there unless he’s ready.
It would be an upset if anyone other than Barwin and Cole were the starters in Week 1. Smith is obviously making the 53-man roster, and the team signed Braman specifically to provide a special teams boost.
If the Eagles keep a fifth outside linebacker, it’ll come down to Brandon Graham or Travis Long. Graham played 26.8 percent of the team’s defensive snaps a year ago. He can get after the quarterback, but the coaching staff has provided no indication that it believes Graham can be a valuable piece going forward. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, there’s no guarantee that Graham makes the squad.
Long is an unknown, but the organization seems to think highly of him. With a strong summer, he could steal a spot.
One thing I think
You’ll be feeling good about the Smith pick after his rookie season.
Smith is a prime example of the Eagles’ evidence-based drafting approach. They want outside linebackers who can fill multiple roles, and Smith did that at Louisville. He’s an excellent athlete and by all accounts a hard worker.
Smith might not start a game all season, but he’ll play plenty of snaps, and there will be games when he looks like a real difference-maker.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Chip Kelly was ranked as the 18th-best head coach in the NFL by one writer. Intern Josh’s roundup of what they’re saying.
Our second training camp preview piece focused on Nick Foles and the quarterbacks.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Buzz Bissinger wrote Philly Mag’s July cover story on his search to find out who Foles is:
Particularly since Foles is the New Face of Philadelphia Sports in a sports-mad town, the newest promise to the Promised Land in the post-Donovan McNabb era. Is he capable of leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl one day? Was the 2013 season aberrant? How will he handle the pressure? Fans need to try to figure out what ticks inside him to remotely know any of the answers.
Instead, what has emerged is a one-dimensional choirboy caricature reflective of a player and a team and a league terrified of individuality. Foles is selling himself, and being sold by the born-again Eagles, as the anti-DeSean: contrite, non-charismatic, cautious, churchgoing, Caucasian. The perfect poster boy for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and commissioner Roger Goodell’s vision of a new NFL theme park where players have no discernible personality and the Twitter account is laced with Glories to God.
Andrew Kulp of The 700 Level takes a look at whether the running back situation is better or worse than last year:
A second-consecutive rushing title probably isn’t in the cards for McCoy, but he’ll continue to be one of the most dangerous backs in the league. It’s Sproles adding a completely different element to the Birds’ offense that makes this group so much better, though. Last season, the burden fell entirely on Shady’s shoulder. In 2014, he’s going to have a lot more help.
I’ll pinch-hit for T-Mac on the weekly mailbag. Send those questions my way.
Josh Paunil contributed to this article.