DeVonta Smith took his first practice snaps in nearly three weeks Tuesday after being sidelined since late last month with a minor knee sprain.
The Eagles’ first-round rookie wide receiver participated in about a dozen snaps in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work against the New England Patriots in the second day of joint workouts at the NovaCare Complex.
The Eagles will play the Patriots on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in their second preseason game. Smith said Tuesday that he didn’t know whether he was going to play against the Patriots.
“That’s not my decision,” he said. “Whatever the coaches want me to do [I’ll do]. I believe in them. I trust them to put me in the best situation.”
Smith was in pads Monday for the first of the Eagles’ two practices with the Patriots but didn’t take any snaps, instead working with a trainer on the side.
He gave no indication during his limited work on Tuesday that the injured knee still is bothering him. Given the high expectations for him this season, however, the Eagles are likely to play it safe. The fact that the NFL has cut the number of preseason games from four to three will have no impact on whether Smith plays Thursday.
“It felt good,” Smith said of his knee following Tuesday’s 1-hour, 22-minute practice. “Just getting back out there and doing some stuff and cutting and things like that. Going against somebody. It was a happy feeling.
“I’m excited. Just taking it day by day, step by step and continuing to get better and get more comfortable with [the offense].”
Smith said the injury was just a freak accident. “I was on the ground and somebody just fell on me,” he said. “It’s football. Injuries happen. It is what it is.”
Smith is 6 feet tall but has a rake-thin, 170-pound frame. It didn’t seem to be a problem at Alabama where he never missed a game due to injury and won the Heisman Trophy last year, catching 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Eagles selected him in the April draft with the 10th overall pick.
Smith was at practice every day during his recovery. While he couldn’t be out on the field, he took mental reps on the sideline, keeping his head in every practice snap.
“That’s very important because once you come back, you have to be there mentally and know what you’re doing and things like that,” Smith said. “Even though I couldn’t play, I felt I was locked in mentally, and focused on the task at hand and doing the things I could do.”
Smith said that while NFL practices aren’t as “intense” as the ones at Alabama, “it’s more of a mental game” at this level.
“You have to remember things more here,” he said. “Sometimes you have [to remember] two plays at once. You just have to be more mentally locked in.”
The Eagles didn’t get very much production from their wide receiving corps last season. The team’s wideouts combined for just 166 receptions and 14 touchdown catches.
Wide receiver Jalen Reagor, who the Eagles took in the first round last year, missed five games with injuries and had just 31 receptions and one TD.
Under new coach Nick Sirianni, Reagor, who played almost exclusively on the outside last season, is expected to line up in the slot much of the time, with Smith and summer sensation Quez Watkins on the outside in 11-personnel packages, which Sirianni seems to favor. He’ll favor them even more if tight end Zach Ertz is eventually traded.
Wide receiver Greg Ward, who led the Eagles in receptions last season with 53, said he has been impressed by Smith.
“Man, he’s smooth, fast, quick, explosive,” Ward said “Everything you saw from him in college, you see it here. And he’s only going to continue to get better.”