Marcus Smith had been in Philadelphia less than two hours when he met with reporters Friday afternoon, but Smith seemed to have a decent handle on the task he will face as the Eagles' surprise first-round draft choice.
"I would tell them, just sit back and just relax," Smith said, when askled if he had a message for distraught fans. "I feel like I can be a great player, especially under the vets we have here ... I can come in and contribute to the team. Even though I wasn't projected high, it isn't about what people project, it's about what the coaches and GMs think of you. I'll try not to let anybody down. I just want to come in and work hard, be successful, and just help this team win."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman vigorously defended the pick.
"At the end of the day, we have to take the value of what we think the player is. We have a lot of people here who have done this for a long time," Roseman said. "We speak to a lot of people in this league and understand that it's going to be different values for different people. We did a lot of work on this player. We feel really good about this player and his fit for us. What we're looking for is not the same thing everyone else is looking for ... The things that we're looking for in an OLB, he does very well."
A morning appearance on 94WIP Radio had left the impression that Roseman was acknowledging the Birds took Smith because they were stymied in their pursuit of other options -- there were six players they'd hoped might last until the 22nd selection, when they were scheduled to pick, or at least, six players they hoped to be able to trade up and reach. "There were moments we thought we had a trade on the clock," Roseman said yesterday evening.
When that didn't happen, because the cost was too dear, Roseman said Smith was the best player they had rated on their board. They knew he wasn't a great fit for every team, and they felt they could afford to move back a little, pick up a third-round selection from Cleveland, and still get Smith at 26.
Roseman said the Eagles considered moving down again, but when Kansas City and former Eagles coach Andy Reid took Missouri"s Dee Ford at 23, Roseman worried a run on pass rushers was about to start. He didn't want to move back further and risk losing Smith, he said.
"We're excited to get this player. He's a good player. a good fit for our team on and off the field," Roseman said.
"We didn't want to get too greedy, because we didn't want to be in no man's land where we got to a pick later on and all the players that we were targeting were gone, and we were picking from the next tier of guys. It made us feel really good to get the (third-round pick) and only move back to 26.
"Seeing him in (Louisville coach Charlie Strong's) system, seeing his ability to play in space and rush the passer and set the edge, it makes us feel a lot more certain than guys that you're transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4."
Strong apparently deserves a lot of credit for approaching Smith at what Smith said was a disastrous first freshman practice at quarterback and asking him if he wanted to try defense.
"I wasn't getting a lot of reps. I was throwing some balls in the dirt. Coach Strong came up to me and asked if I wanted to play on the defense. I just told him I wanted to do whatever it takes to get on the field," Smith said. "I didn't like how I was playing quarterback at the time. Nothing I was doing was going right. Maybe it was time for me to do a changeup, anyway. The coach came to me at the right time ... I was just sittin' on the sideline, watching the quarterbacks throw the ball."
He said that afternoon, in the second installment of the two-a-day, he was a SAM linebacker. Later he moved to defensive end, then to outside linebacker, where he flourished as a senior, notching 14.5 sacks.
"It took me maybe a year-and-a-half" to develop a defensive mindset, Smith said. "I needed to get my legs stronger ... I had to gain a lot of weight. I was 217 when I walked into the building. I weigh 255 now."
Smith said he knew where he was pegged in the draft by analysts, but he said he wasn't floored when the Eagles called.
"People were saying second or third round round. I just had a good feeling that I might go in the first, God willing ... It wasn't really a surprise to me, because I know how good I can be," he said.
Smith, a lean 6-3 1/2, said he figures pass rushing is his biggest asset, and that he needs to learn to set the endge better, so he can be an effective three-down linebacker in the NFL.