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With Long Down, Smith Now In Spotlight

Posted Aug 3, 2015

While the news of Travis Long's torn ACL should make you feel for the former undrafted player who twice now appears to have been robbed of a roster spot by a balky left knee, the sad reality in the NFL is that the beat goes on. Next man up, as they say.

For the Eagles, the next man up as the third outside linebacker very well may be Marcus Smith, which isn't exactly what Smith or the Eagles envisioned when he was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft last spring. As a rookie, Smith played in only eight games, mainly contributing on special teams. Now, he's hoping to prove that he belongs. Not just to the coaches, but to himself.

"To be honest, I think it was all mental," Smith said Monday, reflecting on his tough rookie season. "Everything. Because I can play. I can rush the passer. I can do all the things they need me to do. The mental state – you play around with yourself and you start asking yourself, ‘Are you good enough to play in the NFL?' That's one thing; I had to revert to what I did in college. I feel like I'm a great player, I can rush and do all those things. So when I came back, I was ready."

Smith acknowledged that he may have spent too much time self-analyzing as a rookie. After practice, he would seek out the likes of Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Trent Cole to get their critiques of his performance. The area in which Smith needed to improve the most, in his assessment, was as a pass rusher.

"We can all drop into coverage," Smith said. "We're all athletes and can definitely stop the run by just keeping a firm edge. When it comes to pass rushing, you've got these guys who are huge and can move just as well as you. You have to tailor your game and definitely have to get off the ball faster, use your hands every single time."

The expected "jump" for a player from his rookie season to Year 2 has become a hackneyed NFL concept, but it's trite for a reason. The offseason before a player's rookie year is spent on ancillary pursuits like training for the NFL Scouting Combine and flying across the country for job interviews. Then, when a player is drafted, he has to acclimate not only to a new level of play and new teammates, but to a brand new scheme and nomenclature.

Things change in that second offseason, when a player like Smith, in this case, has the playbook and organizational culture down and can focus instead on improving himself within that context. For Smith, that first meant improving his body. Smith changed his diet this offseason, cutting out fried foods and changing his body from the 253-pound frame he had in 2014 to a stronger and leaner 265.

Speaking after Monday's practice, Smith was unaware of the severity of Long's injury. Instead, he set his sights on Tuesday's open practice at Lincoln Financial Field, not just because of the opportunity to practice in front of the incomparable Eagles fans, but also because Tuesday marks the first day that the team will don the pads.

"That's going to be a real big deal," Smith said. "I can't wait to put the pads on. Tomorrow, we actually get to hit somebody. We haven't been able to hit anybody since last year. So, just to get those on and be able to use the pass-rush moves like you want to, it's going to be great for me and the rest of the linebackers. I know they're eager to get out there too with the pads."

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