Long Injury Puts Spotlight Back On Marcus Smith

Photo By Jeff Fusco

Photo By Jeff Fusco

Travis Long stepped the wrong way during a non-contact punt return drill Monday, and just like that, his season was over.

Like last summer, the undrafted free agent out of Washington State was lost to a torn ACL — the third of his career. Long was drawing praise from his teammates and coaches prior to the injury, and seemed firmly in the mix for that No. 3 outside linebacker role behind Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

The Eagles are looking to bring in another OLB, Chip Kelly said, and Brandon Hepburn and Brad Jones will take reps on the outside with Long no longer in the mix. But much of the weight — at least at the moment — falls on Marcus Smith.

Smith stopped to talk with reporters following Tuesday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field. There are a couple things that you notice when you get up close to last year’s first-round pick. One is the change in physique. He looks more filled out and cut-up than he did as a rookie. He put on 10 pounds this offseason, bulking up to 265. (With all the running around at practice, Smith said he currently weighs in at 260.) The second thing is his change in demeanor. There were times last year when Smith came off as a bit overwhelmed. When he spoke Tuesday, he did so with more command.

“He’s obviously way advanced from last year. He’s not a rookie. You could say that about Josh Huff and all the other guys that are in the second year. It’s neat to see them taking the young guys and explaining how things go,” said Kelly. “I think he feels more comfortable. He came back in really good shape, did a great job in the conditioning test, ran around the last two days, so we’re excited to see how that progresses and what goes on with the outside linebackers to go along with Brandon and Connor.”

The pads went on for the first time Tuesday, and Smith said he could feel a difference, particularly in his strength.

“Being an outside linebacker, you really have to set the edge. I’ve gotten stronger and [outside linebacker] Coach [Bill] McGovern has really worked with me with that. Today I got to show what the coaches taught me and I think I did a pretty good job. Always want to do better.

“I would say [I’m] 100 times more comfortable than I was last year. Being athletic is all well and good, but once you get the technique down and all that stuff you become a better outside linebacker. You can’t just be an athletic person in this league, you have to have great technique.”

He worked on some of that technique this offseason with former defensive end and current pass-rushing consultant Chuck Smith.

While the effort and signs of development are encouraging, Smith is still a great unknown. He struggled in a pretty big way as a rookie, leaving doubts as to whether he can turn into a meaningful contributor for this Eagles team. Smith, though, is going into 2015 with confidence.

“No pressure. It’s the same thing. I still want to play, still want to do the same things I did [before Long got hurt]. But there’s no pressure on me. I’m just going to keep coming out every day and just keep playing.

“[The third linebacker] is a big deal to the team. That guy is a rotation guy, he comes in and spells Connor or BG and he gets the play started. That’s how we work it for the Eagles. But my initial thought is, shoot, I want to start. I want to be a starter. But if that’s the role I have to play then that’s what I’ll do.”