Eagles linebacker Marcus Smith noticeable in preseason opener
Smith barely contribued as a first-round rookie in 2014 but played extensively in a preseason victory over Indianapolis.
MARCUS SMITH was everywhere - every special-team unit, he said afterward, and every defensive snap from midway through the first quarter to late in the third, playing both outside linebacker positions.
There were a couple of reasons for this. One was that the Eagles are really hurting for outside linebacker depth, behind starters Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. They've lost Travis Long and Brandon Hepburn to season-ending injuries already. Smith and special-teams standout Bryan Braman are pretty much what's left, with inside 'backer Brad Jones working in here and there.
But just as pertinent was the fact that Smith is one of the guys this preseason is about. Chip Kelly and Bill Davis have to find out if they can count on him, if the 2014 first-round pick's dedication to getting stronger in the offseason will translate into more effective play. If Smith can't be the third OLB, they probably need to go out and find one somehow, which isn't going to be easy, this close to the season.
The first look at "Marcus Smith, take two," was encouraging. Though he wore down noticeably on a day when the high reached 94, Smith made several nice plays in the first half of yesterday's preseason opener against Indianapolis. His pass coverage was particularly solid, something you don't necessarily expect from a linebacker who has pushed his weight up into the 260 range. He stopped the run, and Smith even got a hand in Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's face a couple times, once definitely forcing a throwaway.
"I want to get to the quarterback and sack him," Smith said afterward. "Getting a hurry, it's all good, but they pay you in the NFL to get to the quarterback and sack the quarterback . . . Keep taking steps forward."
The Eagles' fast-paced offense means the defense leads the league in snaps faced, at least that was what it meant last season. You have to have depth. Graham, as last season's third OLB, played 43 percent of the Birds' snaps, spelling both Barwin and Trent Cole. He notched 5 1/2 sacks.
"I definitely have thought about that," Smith said.
Yesterday, he found the Colts' frequent use of three-step drops frustrating, he said. He thought he could have gotten to Hasselbeck or Bryan Bennett a little quicker.
"If I can make him hold the ball just one more second, that's what I want to do," Smith said. "There's a lot of stuff I gotta improve on . . . I think I did better in the run game; I'm just bigger, stronger."
Last year, Smith was the goat when then-49ers running back Frank Gore broke away from him - Smith thought Gore was staying in to block - and was wide open for a 55-yard touchdown pass in the 49ers' 26-21 victory over the Eagles. That play was the seventh snap Smith played against San Francisco, and the last.
Yesterday, Smith didn't get a chance to exact revenge against Gore, who stood on the Colts' sideline all day, after spurning the Eagles to sign with Indianapolis in free agency. Smith covered a tight end in the end zone for several seconds, and still had good coverage when the ball arrived. It wasn't caught.
"I always think about that [Gore] play," Smith said. "You never leave your guy, even when a quarterback scrambles."
"I just think there's kind of a calming sense around him," Kelly said when asked about Smith. "He's carrying himself in a different manner. He was excited about going out and playing in a football game today. We're excited to see where this goes."
Auld Lang Syne
Trent Cole and Todd Herremans were recognized for their stellar Eagles career as they returned to the Linc with the Colts.
"It was good to see everybody, and it was good to see everyone doing so well," Herremans said.
"It was a weird feeling," said Cole, who said he'd never been to the visitors' locker room before. Asked about the video board tribute and ovation, Cole said: "It was great. Philly fans stick behind their former players . . . It was great to see everybody. I'm a Colt now, and I wouldn't change anything."
The Ravens arrive Wednesday for three days of joint practices before the Saturday preseason game . . . Andrew Gardner started at right guard, but Chip Kelly said each of the four candidates for the job will get first-unit time at some point in the preseason . . . Third-round rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks threw a nice block on Kenjon Barner's 92-yard punt return for a TD. Barner had an open field when he cut to the right. "I knew [Pat McAfee] was outkicking the coverage. I had a long conversation with [Darren] Sproles during pregame. He told me [McAfee] was going to kick the ball deep, was going to give me plenty of opportunities. So once I saw it come off his foot, I knew it was going to be deep," Barner said. "Our guys have been doing a great job with their gunners, shutting them down. Once I saw that was taken care of, I knew that I had time. The guys in front of me did a great job of making sure nobody touched me." Barner ran back, back, back, back to field the ball. "It felt like a long way," he said. "I have no idea how far I went back there; I know I went pretty far."