Eagles Wake-Up Call: Marcus Smith And the Pass Rush
Successful 3-4 outside linebackers need to do three things well: set the edge, rush the passer and drop in coverage. By the sounds of it, Marcus Smith is a third of the way there.
“He’s always done a really good job in the drop aspect but you have to be able to do all three,” said Chip Kelly. “So working on two phases of that now.”
The biggest challenge has been getting after the quarterback. That might seem strange considering Smith finished second in the NCAA last year with 14.5 sacks. The Louisville product explained that in college, much of the mission could be achieved with sheer athleticism. On this level everybody is crazy athletic, so it becomes more about technique. Right now, Smith still needs a lot of work in that department.
He appears to be moving in the right direction. Kelly said that Smith showed improvement in the final two preseason games. And Smith referenced a couple specific circumstances where all that technique work paid off.
“In the Steelers game I used one move and I got around the tackle and I got close to the quarterback. And the last game against the Jets I used a move inside and I got a hit on the quarterback,” said Smith, who was credited with eight tackles, a pass defensed and a tackle for a loss this preseason. “So the stuff is starting to come and it’s going to be more frequent once the season comes along.”
That’s the hope. Smith is the backup “Jack” behind Connor Barwin. Brandon Graham is the primary “Predator” reserve, backing up Trent Cole. As a former first-round pick, Graham certainly understands the pressure to perform (and perform early) when you are selected that high in the draft.
“I know exactly what he’s going through. He says some of the similar things that I used to say, like: ‘Man, Coach is on me. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I know I can play, I know I can do this, I know the defense. What am I doing?’ I’m like, ‘You’ve got to settle down, you’ve got to do it the way they want you to do it and in the game, he’ll give you a little flexibility. As long as you make plays, that’s all that matters,” said Graham.
“You go from being a man to now you gotta come back to being a rookie or freshman all over again. I told him, don’t let it bring you down because stuff is not working that worked on the college level. You’ve gotta keep perfecting your craft and working on your technique. You’ve got it because you’re here but you have to work on those little things that’s going to take you up to the next level.”
Smith anticipates that he will be active against the Jags Sunday but is unsure what the extent of his role will be. Given the amount of learning that still needs to be done, it’s probably safe to assume that he won’t be featured prominently. That might not be the news Eagles fans were hoping for when it comes to the 26th overall pick, but that seems to be about where we’re at.
“Everybody on the outside, I know their expectations for me,” he said. “Actually, I have high expectations for myself. I feel the same way. I feel like I need to be out there going balls to the wall, too.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“If I had to… I would say no.” Donovan McNabb is not yet sold on Nick Foles as a franchise QB.
Chip Kelly on injuries, the kicker situation and Marqise Lee.
Our prediction series continues with a look at how much the Lane Johnson suspension will impact this team.
Sheil gets us more familiar with the Jaguars.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Domo talked to an NFC scout about the offensive line, including Allen Barbre:
“If Barbre has to face an elite guy, he’s going to struggle. He struggles with spin moves and with guys getting underneath him. He’s just OK out there. I’d have a lot fewer concerns about him if he was inside at guard and not out on an island against fast edge rushers.”
And Jason Kelce:
“Kelce is developing into one of the best centers in the game,” the NFC scout said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, so he can’t overpower the big nose tackles. But I watched him play against New England last month and he just wheeled around Vince Wilfork the whole game. He shielded him easily.
“His hands are so good and he just runs so well. He gets to the second level. He can lead sweeps all the time. He can snap and get out. He’s just extremely talented at what they ask him to do.”
Sal Paolantonio is very high on the Eagles heading into the season. This from his Tuesday appearance with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic:
“I think you can make a very good case for this team representing the NFC in the Super Bowl,” said Paolantonio. “To me, the three teams they have to go through are New Orleans, Seattle and Green Bay…I just think that when you look at these four teams, the Eagles get the two toughest games on the road — at Indy and at San Francisco — they get Indy without Robert Mathis; they get San Francisco in the middle of all these suspensions and injuries on defense. I think this team has got a really good shot of capturing enough wins to get home field advantage.
“Peter King predicted the Eagles would get home field advantage but he didn’t predict them going to the Super Bowl, suggesting that they were going to lose at home in the playoffs. I don’t see that happening.”
Preparation for the season opener against the Jaguars continues. The coordinators speak prior to today’s 11:15 a.m. practice.