Inside Voices: A Message To Marcus Smith

Plus, how the Pope impacted the Eagles schedule.

Photo By Jeff Fusco

Photo By Jeff Fusco

The back wall of Marcus Smith‘s locker stall is filled with yellow Post-it notes. They are arranged neatly in rows, maybe eight across by six or seven down, each with an inspirational message on it written in black marker or ink.

Be different.

Respect is earned, not given.

Leave no doubt.

Be relentless.

In order for others to count on me, I first must be able to count on myself.

Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great.

And so on.

“Last year, [director of player engagement] Marcus Sedberry would give me a post every day to live by,” Smith explained. “He would give me a post each and every day. Now he just gives them weekly, something just to motivate me during that [week].

“I just want to keep them there as a constant reminder.”

It strikes you almost as a calendar — singular blocks representing time spent in an NFL life that has not gone to plan. Enough Post-its to fill a wall, but only 74 snaps and nary a tackle to show for it.

He tried to downplay it a bit, but this is a big week for Smith. Injuries to Cedric Thornton and Taylor Hart could very well bump Vinny Curry inside, which means Smith would assume the role of the No. 3 outside linebacker behind Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

“Seems that way, the way practice has been going,” said Smith. “I definitely want to go out there and make plays but at the same time, it’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was five. You just have to go out there and do your job, and the plays will come. That’s the biggest thing for me, I just want to go out there and have fun and do my job.”

Smith hasn’t played a defensive snap since last November. He was eager to put his disappointing rookie season behind him and get his second year off to a positive start, but was hampered by injuries for most of the offseason — including a hamstring strain that he just recently recovered from. The stars have aligned  for him this week. With injuries cropping up on the defensive side of the ball, a now-healthy Smith gets a chance to show that he is ready to be a contributor at this level.

While waiting for that opportunity, Smith has leaned on his faith, he said. A Christian man, Smith reads a Bible verse every morning for guidance.

If he ever needs an extra dose of motivation, he has a wall-full of messages in front of him as he dresses for training.

The first one Sedberry ever gave him sits at the top-right corner of Smith’s locker stall. All these months later, it continues to carry the most weight.

Will you be the first round pick we remember, or the one we never knew?

On the Pope and the Eagles schedule

Count the schedule-makers – and the Eagles — among those impacted by the Pope’s visit.

The NFL deals with thousands of variables every year when constructing schedules for each of the 32 teams. It’s  a giant jig-saw puzzle that needs to account for everyone’s needs, preferences and conflicts. No one request can be granted without it impacting the rest of the teams in some way. It becomes largely about prioritization, then, and no request was ranked higher this year than the one that came from the City of Philadelphia on behalf of Pope Francis.

“The whole thing started when the Archdiocese began to block streets or request permission from the city, the mayor’s office, the police force, whatever it is,” said Mike North, NFL’s senior director of broadcast planning and scheduling. “At some point that letter came to the NFL as well via Roger Goodell: ‘Please be advised that we are anticipating a Pope visit and a million people,’ the whole thing. And it surely became obvious that it was in everybody’s best interest for us to not try to cram an Eagles game in there the same day.”

They discussed having the Eagles play at home Monday night but ultimately decided that wasn’t workable, so they began searching for road destinations and eventually settled on the Jets.

The Eagles aren’t the easiest team to create a schedule for in the first place, in part because they are one of 11 NFL organizations that share a footprint with an MLB team. If the Phillies are home, the powers-that-be need to try and find a spot away for the Eagles. Such was the case for Weeks One and Four. Factor in the Pope visit as well, and you have your answer to why the Eagles are on the road for three out of the first four weeks.

“When you know that two or three of the first four weeks of the season present a scheduling conflict with a Major League Baseball team in town, you’re significantly increasing the likelihood that one of those teams will end up with what we would consider to be a competitively challenging situation,” said North.

“Like every year, teams that have scheduling challenges often emerge unscathed and there was no impact. Teams that get off to a bad start love to blame the schedule-makers. There’s overcoming challenges, and there are also the kind of thing that we will keep an eye on: if we start the same team with three out of four away for two or three years in a row and each year that team finishes 5-11, you never want the schedule makers to feel like they played a role in that.”

North said that a team playing three-of-four on the road to start is “not horribly uncommon”, noting that several other teams are starting off in similar fashion this year.

“If they can get through the first half of the season, the second half sets up well for them at least in terms of home and away spacing,” he said.

While the early portion  is a bit challenging, the Eagles are blessed with a very light travel schedule overall. They will only log 6,818 miles this season, which is the fewest amount in the NFL this year – some 20,000 less than the most traveled team, the Niners.

Playing the AFC East has its advantages. The players got on buses instead of a plane Thursday evening. They decided to head to New Jersey early in light of the logistical issues this weekend and will complete their practice week at Monmouth College.

“Yeah, there’s supposed to be a lot of people coming to town this weekend,” Kelly joked. “There’s something going on.”

A different kind of conditioning

Prior to hopping on those buses, the players had the option of taking part in a voluntary “mental conditioning” session at the NovaCare. Chip Kelly and the Eagles first started offering this service — which can be looked at as a relative of meditation — during the spring. Those that have attended offered positive reviews.

“I think it’s benefitted a lot of guys, including me,” said Nolan Carroll. “It’s a lot of imagery, really just trying to focus on putting yourself in certain situations throughout the game. If certain things don’t go your way, if you don’t make a play, you’ve got to learn how to challenge yourself mentally, focus on the positive and getting yourself out of that so you don’t continue to just dive down and let that one play affect you.”

The session is led by a conditioning coach who has worked with other professional teams in the past. The objective is to focus the mind on accomplishing what the body has been training all week for.

“It’s mental dreaming is basically what it is. You just imagine what situations are going to happen, either imagine yourself making the play or [focusing on a play you didn’t make] and figuring out a way to be mentally stronger to make a play during the game.”

Given the current state of affairs, any extra edge can’t hurt.