Smith’s Development “Stifled” By Switch

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

It was out of necessity that Marcus Smith II was shuffled from outside linebacker to inside linebacker earlier this year, and it is out of necessity that he is now being shuffled back to his original position.

Trent Cole broke his hand against Dallas and is expected to be sidelined for at least one week. That means Brandon Graham steps into the starter’s role while Smith figures to be the next man in.

“I expect to get some snaps. I’m not sure how many snaps I’ll get but I’m sure to get action,” said Smith. “Hopefully go out there, run around and just make a play.”

Smith is currently practicing at the Predator position, so he’ll likely rotate in for Graham at times. Bryan Braman is the other option at outside linebacker.

Smith was moved inside back in September after Mychal Kendricks and Najee Goode went down with injuries. He was already having a difficult time acclimating to the pro level, and now had to do so while learning a new position. The results haven’t been good. Smith has appeared in six games and has played just 74 snaps, totaling one tackle and one quarterback hurry.

“We set him back by moving him inside, but we needed that because of all the injuries we had at inside,” said Billy Davis. “It’s a credit to him that he has the mental capability and physical capability to go inside and learn. Now, he didn’t overtake anybody because he’s never been in there. I didn’t think he’d overtake anybody never having done it. But now as we grow and go forward that’s something that he can use as a plus instead of a minus that it was this year.

“Now he goes back outside and again he has to get the rust off and from that aspect his development has been stifled a little because of what we had to do but in the long run, in the future I think he will benefit from this move. “

As to what position Smith will end up playing long term, Davis said “the jury is still out.” The general feeling, though, is he’ll end up on the outside.

“Watching some of the things he does, naturally I think he’s a really good pass rusher, uses his hands well as he’s rushing the passer from what I’ve seen at practice,” said DeMeco Ryans. “I see him as an outside linebacker, more of an athletic guy that can drop into coverage and also rush the passer.”

Smith admitted that it has been a struggle to keep his confidence up, particularly early on when he was asked to make the switch. He has leaned on guys like Brandon Graham to learn how to navigate through a rookie campaign that has fallen short of expectations.

“I think he worries about a lot. But that was me, too,” said Graham. “I know exactly what you’re feeling. Anybody that’s a first rounder that’s not doing good is probably in the same boat. Thinking about, ‘Man, you know what you can do, you’ve been doing it all the way up to now. What’s different?’ And that’s what you have to find: what’s different. And once I learned the speed and what coaches really wanted, I think stuff started to settle down for me and I was able to focus on what I needed to do.

“If you’re worried about the outside world then you already lost,” Graham added, “because right now this is our job and you’ve got to go out there and go to practice and you’ve gotta work hard and just show ‘em. You’ve got to build that trust up. That’s it.”

Smith said he received a warm welcome when he returned to the outside linebacker room this week. It’s been a season of detours. But now he’s back at his more natural position and will have a chance to contribute in a meaningful game come Saturday.

“I thought I was going to be playing and I thought I was going to be making a lot of plays but it didn’t turn out that way,” said Smith. “All I know is I’ve been trying to work hard to get back to the player I know I can be. I’m happy to be back at outside linebacker, but it’s always an uphill battle.”