Marcus Smith stays off Twitter and Instagram to avoid the criticism he may receive from fans, but he can't always evade his family.
"I got uncles that are really passionate about football," the Eagles linebacker said. "They see me do something wrong in the game, they'll send me a text and try to correct it. Sometimes I don't text back."
Smith is already under enough pressure. Drafted in the first round by the Eagles, the rookie has played sparingly in his first five games and only because of injuries. The team moved Smith from outside linebacker to inside after Mychal Kendricks injured his calf.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Smith is being graded on a curve because of the in-season position switch, but there has been more bad than good. Smith blew a coverage against the 49ers that resulted in a touchdown and he fell to the ground on both of his first-half pass-rushing attempts against the Rams. Eagles coaches have credited him with only an assisted tackle.
Smith played only 29 snaps in the last three games, however. The sample is too small to say much about his development and certainly about his long-term capabilities. But the Eagles aren't going to play him just because they're paying him more than any other rookie.
"We don't look at a guy and say, 'Hey, he's this, we have to force him in,' " coach Chip Kelly said. "I think you'd lose the rest of the guys on your team if you say, 'Why are you playing this guy? Just because we drafted him high.' He has to prove that he deserves playing time."
Smith may get more time if DeMeco Ryans is sidelined Sunday for the game against the New York Giants with a groin injury. But at some point, both Kendricks and Ryans will be healthy, and Davis said Smith would return to the outside and cross-train inside, and there may not be as many opportunities to play.
"I want to be playing now," Smith said. "I feel like I could play right now and make plays right now. I just have to keep working at it, keep studying film and get better at it. I've promised myself that by the end of the season that I'm playing a lot and making plays for the team."
Smith said that he had yet to approach Kelly to see where he stood.
"But I ain't going to lie, I was thinking about going to talk to him, just to pick his brain and see how he thought about things," he said.
During the preseason, Kelly and Davis were sure not to saddle Smith with high expectations, but they did criticize his performance in the second preseason game. Davis said that as a young coach he used to make the mistake of projecting high picks based on their college production.
"I've learned you have to see them in the NFL to truly make a prediction," Davis said. "Some guys come in and it's really halfway through the season before you really know what you have. And everyone and their brother thinks a first-round pick is an automatic Pro Bowler."
But some other NFL teams didn't have Smith graded as a first-round talent. One senior personnel director said his team had given the Louisville product a second-round grade. Two senior scouts for other teams said Smith was rated as a third-rounder on their boards.
"In a nutshell, we thought he was a backup outside linebacker on first and second down that needed development as a situational third-down pass rusher," one of the senior scouts said.
The Eagles had said they took Smith with the 26th overall pick because teams right behind them were prepared to draft him. Those teams – the Redskins and Falcons were rumored to be interested – likely saw the same characteristics the Eagles coveted.
Smith's athleticism and length were cited as the prime reasons for selecting him. The Eagles envisioned him as an outside linebacker who could equally pass-rush, drop into coverage, and set the edge. Smith recorded 141/2 sacks as a senior, but the rush has come hardest at this level.
Davis enlisted former NFL sackmaster Kevin Greene to help with the rush during training camp, but his message – "to establish the violent, physical nature of the game from the get-go" – may have been lost on Smith.
"Marcus is more of the finesse guy, more of a space guy," Davis said. "It's a lot to learn in pass rushing if you're not just going to go manhandle someone, you got to learn how to set him up."
His skill set could be better suited for the inside. When Smith has rushed, it has been on blitzes. He was unblocked on both first-half blitzes against the Rams, but he said he tripped on Ryans' foot on the first and was knocked over by Brandon Graham on the second.
"I just felt like I couldn't get a break," Smith said. "I'm trying to make a play and my plays ain't coming yet."
Despite the setbacks, Davis said that he thought Smith was handling the pressure well.
"I think there are times he's probably frustrated," Davis said. "Anybody would be that who considers themselves a competitor."
The benefit of moving inside is that Smith has had Ryans to counsel him.
"He coaches me throughout the whole practice and even in the game he coaches me," Smith said. "He just tells me, 'Just keep going. Don't ever stop. People are going to say what they want. It's not all bad.'"
Tell his uncles.
While top pick Marcus Smith has had his struggles, the Eagles have gotten contributions from some of their rookies.
Jordan Matthews, selected in the second round, has been the most productive. The wide receiver is tied for second on the team with 19 catches, is averaging 9.3 yards per catch, and has two touchdowns. He has played 58 percent of the offensive snaps, mostly out of the slot. "There hasn't been any time where you've been like, 'What is he doing here?' " Kelly said. "He doesn't make many mental busts."
Josh Huff, a third-round pick, was inactive for the first four games as he recovered from a shoulder injury. He expressed frustration that he hadn't played earlier, but he dressed for the first time against the Rams and caught one pass for 4 yards in 10 snaps. He is likely to return kicks Sunday with Chris Polk sidelined.
Jaylen Watkins has yet to play. When he was drafted in the fourth round, the Eagles said he could play cornerback or safety. "I think he's a good corner," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "I think he's going to be a real good slot corner."
The Eagles may have their most depth on the defensive line which has meant fifth-round end Taylor Hart has watched the first five games. His two-gap run-stopping skills have been touted by coaches, but Davis said there's more. "He kind of looks like a big offensive lineman, but he's stronger and more athletic than he looks," he said. "He's got a pass rush."
Aside from Matthews, seventh-round nose tackle Beau Allen has played the most of the draft picks. He's been on the field for 18 percent of the defensive snaps, backing up Bennie Logan. Hehas five tackles overall.
While fifth-round safety Ed Reynolds failed to make the 53-man roster (he's on the practice squad), the Eagles scored with undrafted tight end Trey Burton. He hasn't played yet on offense, but has stood out on special teams and already has blocked a punt.
FIVE QUESTIONS: Beau Allen
A weekly Q&A with an Eagle:
1. Q: If you were NFL commissioner what would be the one thing you would change about the league?
A: I would give players access to two complimentary tickets on the road.
2. Q: Who is your celebrity crush?
A: I got a lot. Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence. We'll just stick with those three for right now.
3. Q: Who wins a fight between a bear and a shark in five feet of water and why?
A: I'm going to go with the shark. Bears are fast on land, but they're not as graceful in water. I've seen them catch salmon, but I'm going with the shark.
4. Q: Do you think we came from apes?
A: Looking in the mirror, yes.
5. Q: If you could be any fictional character who would it be?
A: I want to be someone in the Harry Potter universe. I want to be Hagrid.
INSIDE THE GAME
The Eagles defense has increasingly used its dime package (six defensive backs) this season. Against the Rams, Bill Davis rolled out his dime personnel for 27 of 74 snaps. Through five games, the defensive coordinator has used his dime on 58 of 371 plays ( 15.6 percent).
So how has the unit, which employs Nolan Carroll as the sixth defensive back - and a quasi-inside linebacker - done? Just OK. The Eagles have allowed 6.0 yards per play, above the overall average of 5.5. They've surrendered only 5.2 yards per pass attempt (6.4 is the overall average) and 10.3 yards per rush (4.2). Five of 13 passing touchdowns have come against the dime, but the Eagles also have an interception and a fumble recovery.
Opposing offenses have taken advantage of the smaller unit on the ground, but the main objective of the dime is to limit the pass on third downs, and for the most part the Eagles have done that.
Inside the Locker Room
In their first meeting last season, the New York Giants' defensive line ran a stunt - or a "nut" stunt - against the Eagles' inside zone-read plays and had great success. They had the nose tackle line up as the one-technique on either shoulder of the center - Jason Kelce in this case - and run a stunt across the center's face from one side to the other.
The Giants set the stunt up by having the nose penetrate upfield in the first half. When the second half came around, Kelce wasn't anticipating the move and LeSean McCoy was stopped dead in his tracks. The Eagles, of course, won that game. They had a little more success against the stunt in the second meeting, but McCoy still managed only 48 yards on 15 carries and the Eagles lost.
Defenses have found other ways to take the Eagles' inside zone runs away this season, but center David Molk - who is filling in for the injured Kelce - said the offense is prepared for the "nut" stunt Sunday.
"We've put a couple things in place where if they do want to pull that nose across the face we have something to help us," Molk said.
By the Numbers
Number of 20-plus-yard plays the Eagles have allowed this season. Last season, they had 32 more 20-plus-yard plays (98-66) than their opponents.
Darren Sproles' punt return yards through five games, which is already 52 more than the Eagles had all of last season.
Differential between average pass length (9.91) and average pass length completion (6.09) for Nick Foles - the greatest disparity in the NFL.