On the Marcus Smith Project

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Billy Davis has a message for players who enter his office looking for feedback:

“Be careful what you ask, because you are going to get the truth. Just be ready to handle the truth,” said Davis, channelling his inner Colonel Jessup.

The truth is that Marcus Smith is struggling. Davis has talked to the rookie outside linebacker about it, and was candid about it at his press conference this week when he said, among other things, that “the game is moving too fast in his brain right now in my opinion.” He knew Smith would be listening.

“I was interested to see how he would respond even to our comments to you guys. I know that I am talking to them, too,” he told a small group of reporters Tuesday. “But I talk to them first and I try to keep the same message. He’s going to be OK. And he’s not playing great. We try to live in the truth.”

Davis says Smith has responded well to the critical analysis and believes the 6-3, 251-pound former quarterback has the athleticism and mental make-up to push through the learning curve and develop into a good player. The question is: how long will that take?

“He had a ton of production [in college] but a lot of it was on-air production when you studied it,” said former scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who had Smith as his 44th ranked player in the 2014 draft but anticipated that he would be taken in the first round based on buzz he was hearing around the league. “But you were intrigued with what he could do athletically just in terms of watching him run and drop and do different things, you can use him on twists and do all different things with him. Very, very athletic but not a pure polished pass rusher. Very much going to be a work in progress.

“He is an athlete right now. He’s not really a football player. You have to develop that. The position switch he had in college coming from the offensive side of the ball, there is going to be a natural adjustment period, especially  when you get to this level. I wouldn’t expect much — I know I didn’t expect much –in Year One. I think it’s kind of a long-term play.”

The answer to their pass-rushing issues in the short-term, then, might have to come from somewhere else besides their first-round pick. Howie Roseman has talked about the draft being more of a long-term investment rather than a quick fix in the organization’s eyes. They would obviously prefer instant impact but will accept minimal early returns so long as it pays off down the line.

Right now, the bumps in the road are being looked at as part of the process for a young, green player. When does it turn into a cause for concern?

“Year two,” said Davis. “If this time next year I’m having the same conversation, then I’m alarmed. But it won’t happen. We’ll make sure we get him right. He’ll be OK.”

You can tell that?

“Yeah, you can [by his personality], the way he works, and it means something to him. That rookie year is so hard.”