Eagles fans seemingly like to judge the play of tight end L.J. Smith by how many footballs he catches, and Smith's puny numbers through the first quarter of the season have them looking upon him with disdain.

But Smith knows there's more to his value than numbers, so he doesn't care what the critics think. Indeed, he doesn't even hear them. The only way he knows he's a target of the critics is when people tell him "about them being hard on me."

"I've been here long enough to know how it works," Smith said yesterday after practice at the NovaCare Complex. "When you're down, they're going to make sure you stay down. They're going to let you know, 'We don't appreciate it.' When you're up, you're the best thing smoking.

"So that's how it is, whether it's the team or an individual. The best thing I can do is come out and have a great game, and that's it.

"I stay out of the papers, I stay out of the blogs, I stay out of the Eagles' Web site, I stay out of the radio. That's not what I do. I come home, pop a DVD in, and I relax. I get away from it because it can consume you if you let it. Twenty-four/seven is football in this city. They expect a lot."

Smith, 28, who probably will play Sunday against the Washington Redskins after missing last week's game with a back injury, has not put up the numbers this season.

His six catches for the season, good for 49 yards and a touchdown, came in his first two games. Only two balls - one low and incomplete, the second intercepted - were thrown his way against Pittsburgh in Week 3 before he left after the third quarter with the injury.

Smith is being asked more to block. If he blocks well and the coaches grade him favorably, "that's all I care about," he said, adding that he graded out "pretty high" in the 41-37 loss at Dallas.

"If the coach tells me I had a great day blocking, helping [Brian] Westbrook get 100 yards or 200 yards on the ground and helping Donovan [McNabb] pass for 400 yards, then I've done my job," he said.

"There are other criteria in my job that I have to do besides help somebody run up their fantasy stats," he said. "That's not my concern. My concern is doing whatever I need to do to help my team win ball games."

But Smith is a receiver, too. The former Rutgers star caught a career high of 61 balls in 2005 but dropped to 22 last year, when he played in only 10 games because of injuries to his groin and knee.

He said Terrell Owens "got a lot of flak for saying, 'I want the ball more.' Granted, he got the ball thrown to him 17 times [against the Redskins last week]. I don't think that will ever happen here for me or a receiver. But that's what you want to do.

"Am I made, am I built, to be blocking every play? No. I can get out and do things. But if the coach tells me I've done a great job" blocking and helping the blocking of Jon Runyan or Tra Thomas, "then that's also part of my job and I'm cool with it."

The blocking by the 6-foot-3, 258-pound Smith has drawn favorable reviews. When asked if Smith can go without catching a ball and still have a good game, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said: "Yeah, and he has in the past. He's caught a bunch of balls for us and has had good games doing that as well. But he does a good job at the line of scrimmage."

Still, Smith would like to be involved more in the passing game. He said his back was feeling great after two days of practice, and he hoped McNabb would throw a few more balls his way against the Redskins.

Washington defeated Dallas last week, but the Cowboys' all-pro tight end, Jason Witten, caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Smith said that the Redskins played man-to-man coverage on Witten, and that such coverage would be fine with him.

And if they don't, Smith said, he would find other ways to help his team win and the critics could say what they want.

"I don't take it personal," he said. "I know what's what, and that's it. If I take it personal, trust me, I'd be going crazy right now."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.