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Marcus Smith on skipping OTAs: 'Wasn't a reason. It was voluntary'

The former first-round pick returned to practice but remains on the roster bubble.

Marcus Smith during minicamp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday.
Marcus Smith during minicamp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday.Read more

Marcus Smith returned to the Eagles practice field Tuesday for mandatory minicamp. It remains unclear why the beleaguered Eagles defensive end missed the last few weeks in the first place.

"My decision and my agent's decision was just to decide not to come," Smith said. "Wasn't a reason. It was voluntary. I just stayed at home and trained."

Smith did not participate in organized team activities during the last three weeks. His attendance was not required, but the former first-round pick is on the roster bubble. It would seem that 10 practice sessions could have helped his case if he wanted to be on the Eagles in 2017. He did not specify why he skipped OTAs other than repeating that they were voluntary and he made the decision.

"I don't feel like I missed anything," Smith said. "I knew the playbook well. I think when I went home, I was just working on my pass rush, working on stuff that I would be working on up here."

The Eagles drafted Derek Barnett in the first round and signed veteran Chris Long, a duo that joins expected starters Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham atop the depth chart. Smith is competing for the fifth defensive end spot, and four sacks in three seasons do not make for a sparkling resumé to cement a roster spot. He said he has not asked the team for his release.

"I still want to make this team," Smith said. "I still want to be a part of the Philadelphia Eagles."

Further complicating Smith's status, the Eagles did not pick up his fifth-year option and he has a $594,000 roster bonus due early in training camp. If the Eagles do not plan on keeping him this season, Smith might not even make it to the preseason opener because of the salary-cap implications.

The Eagles would save $1.48 million if they released Smith. Smith said he does not concern himself with the financial specifics, although he understood why the Eagles declined the option year on his contract.

"It's obvious that that wasn't happening," Smith said. "I hadn't really played that much in three years. It wouldn't be smart as a business for the Eagles' business to pick it up."

Smith was the Eagles' surprise first-round pick in 2014. He seldom played as a rookie while swinging between outside and inside linebacker, and took only 10 percent of the defensive snaps as an outside linebacker in 2015. The Eagles hoped that a switch to defensive end in the 4-3 defense last year would invigorate Smith, but he played 21 percent of the snaps and totaled 2 1/2 sacks. That fell well short of his stated goals last August, which included "at least 10 sacks, 10  [tackles for losses], and at least four interceptions."

"I really have the same goal as far as stat-wise," Smith said Tuesday. "First and foremost, I want to become a starter."

That's not expected to happen, and it does not help his case by missing the last three weeks. That's why his absence was confounding and his explanation offered little clarity. OTAs are voluntary, but they're an opportunity for bottom-of-the-roster players. Jason Peters can miss time and know he'll be the first-team left tackle come September. Smith returned as a third-string defensive end.

"The only thing it did really was give us more of a three-deep rotation at practice today with Marcus back," coach Doug Pederson said of Smith returning.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who missed OTAs last year, told Smith that he needs to come back and be himself. He said he was glad to have Smith back, but warned Smith that he hasn't chased a football in a few weeks so he must be smart about his body.

Smith said he watched practice film while he trained in Maryland. He remains at 255 pounds, his playing weight. He has worked with pass-rushing coach Chuck Smith in the past and said he received one-on-one instruction during his absence. He insisted his decision to stay away from OTAs had nothing to do with his teammates, coaches, or Eagles management.

"I did want to be here as far as being with my teammates," Smith said. "I just decided to stay home."

Before OTAs, Smith participated in the early portion of the offseason program. Then he decided to go train on his own. Smith said he did not think he missed a chance to put his "best foot forward" for the coaching staff because he's trying to do that this week.

"I'm here now," Smith said. "It was voluntary. Minicamp was mandatory and I need to be here for that."