Marcus Smith's hamstring injury will likely keep him out only two to three weeks, which is better news than he feared when the injury occurred Thursday. But the Eagles' 2014 first-round pick is certainly out of Saturday's preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens and could miss the remainder of the preseason.
"It was not as bad as I thought it was," Smith said. "Three weeks is probably the most. I'll definitely be ready for the Falcons game [in Week 1]. Try to be ready for the last preseason game."
After struggling as a rookie, Smith offered the coaches more reason for optimism this summer. He appeared in line for a key role as the third outside linebacker, which is the spot Brandon Graham filled last season. The Eagles have already lost three linebackers to injury, including Travis Long, who was a top candidate for the spot Smith now hopes to fill.
"I'm glad it wasn't anything major, but it's still something that keeps him out, which is disappointing probably to him more than anybody," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said before practice Friday. "But he really was taking some growth steps and coming along, and now he's got a setback, and that's all it is."
Smith did not want to use that term. He will miss valuable practice and playing time in the preseason, but he was still on the sidelines Friday and does not believe the injury will hamper his ability to become the third outside linebacker.
"I don't think it sets me back at all," Smith said. "I think it's just something unfortunate that happened."
The injury forces Davis to get creative. Without much depth, the Eagles are turning to players from other positions to cross-train as outside linebackers.
Brad Jones, who started 36 games in six seasons with the Packers, has experience on both the inside and outside. He spent most of the offseason at inside linebacker, but he has mixed in more with the outside linebackers since Long's injury and should see work there Saturday.
Emmanuel Acho also added outside linebacker to his workload, and the versatility would make him more attractive when roster cuts are determined.
But the most intriguing option might be Vinny Curry, a defensive lineman who was used mostly as a pass-rush specialist during the last two seasons in Davis' defense. He spent some time at outside linebacker offseason, but not to the extent that appears ahead of him.
"We'll accelerate Vinny's move out there now because of the depth," Davis said. "I'm excited and Vinny's excited about seeing him out there. . . .We kind of slowly leaked him in, and the last couple weeks he's got more and more, and this week we gave him a lot. In the game we'll give him some."
Curry, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 279 pounds, is big for the position. Davis compared his transition to the one that Trent Cole made. Curry said he dropped into coverage while in college at Marshall, so it's not "super new." He just needs to learn it and become more comfortable with the responsibilities.
"He's doing a good job," Davis said. "It's a process. The more reps we give them the better we'll get at it. Vinny is bright-eyed, very excited about the project, and he's diving into it and attacking it. So he'll probably get it quicker."
Curry filled an important role with the team in the past. Although he played only 32 percent of the snaps last season, he finished with nine sacks. On third downs, he is a key piece of the Eagles' pass rush. The new responsibilities will be additional duties. He was adamant that they will not take away from his job as a pass rusher.
"No! No! No!" Curry said. "I'm just helping out. No effect at all."
There might not be a necessity at outside linebacker if Smith recovers in time and shows enough improvement to be trusted in the role. But the team still does not know what they have in him. Smith played in eight games last season and took only 68 total defensive snaps.
He missed time in the spring with a groin injury and was starting to get more comfortable before this injury. Smith played 46 defensive snaps in the first preseason game. That was not enough to secure the third linebacker job, but he can at least stay in the discussion once healed.
"I'm really not worried about that," Smith said. "I'm just worried about being healthy. That third linebacker, that's still my goal."