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Marcus Smith, Year 2: How Does He Fit?

Posted Feb 26, 2015

The 26th pick in the 2014 NFL draft is working on his game, hoping that year two in the league sees a huge step of growth. Marcus Smith II has a lot of ground to gain in 2015 ...

The 26th pick in the 2014 NFL draft is working on his game, hoping that year two in the league sees a huge step of growth. Marcus Smith II has a lot of ground to gain in 2015.

He is an interesting wild card to discuss as the Eagles prepare for March 10 and the onset of free agency. Where do they see Smith fitting into the defense? How much can he improve after playing 68 snaps in his rookie campaign, moving from outside linebacker to inside linebacker and then to outside again?

"For me," Smith said late in 2014, "it's just a matter of improving every day and working hard. That's all I can control. That's my only focus."

Smith admitted to "learning a lot" as a rookie and that he "expected for me to be out there making plays" after the Eagles made him a first-round draft pick. Smith didn't crack the rotation at linebacker, didn't play on special teams and didn't make even near the kind of impact he wanted.

So let's put this in some kind of perspective, because it's far too early to make a final determination on Smith. Was it disappointing that he didn't provide a lot of quality snaps last season? Yes. Did the Eagles anticipate it taking Smith time to find his footing in the NFL? No doubt. Head coach Chip Kelly said of Smith on draft day that "you're getting a guy that has a huge upside because he hasn't played the position that long."

That's coachspeak for: "We know it's going to take some time for Marcus to develop. Be patient here."

Year 1 is over. Smith wasn't a factor. He is in the midst of the offseason, on his own training and preparing to make an impact in 2015. And that's where the projections really come into play as the Eagles prep for free agency and then the NFL draft.

The Eagles know that Smith fits the physical dimensions to excel on the edge in this league. Kelly raved about Smith's measurables on the day the team selected the Louisville product with the 26th overall draft pick.

"He's a very, very good athlete.  He's over 6'3", in the 250-, 255-pound range, ran 4.68," Kelly said on that Thursday night, "He's got speed coming off the edge.  We thought adding a pass rusher was a big thing for us.  I think a young kid to bring in behind Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin) and those guys can teach him the ropes and bring him along and show him what we can do.  But I think his ceiling is very, very high."

Do the Eagles see Smith coming off the edge in his second year? Will he be ready to challenge Barwin, an All-Pro player last season, and Cole, the relentless veteran, for playing time? Did the time Smith spend at inside linebacker last season when the Eagles were ravaged by injuries, benefit him enough for the Eagles to consider moving Smith inside?

The team's offseason conditioning program begins in late March and the Eagles will see Smith and have a strong feel for his physical conditioning and how he has approached the critical months after his first season. The saying that resonates is that players improve the most from their first season to their second, and it's going to take that kind of leap for Smith to work his way into the rotation. Barwin and Cole are big-time pros. They understand what it takes to have success in the NFL. They know all of the angles.

How much did it benefit Smith to work in that outside linebacker room in 2014? Did the veteran wisdom of Barwin and Cole rub off on Smith?

The big question, again, is this: How much do the Eagles anticipate Smith helping this year and how will that expectation dictate actions in free agency and the draft? The draft, the analysts say, is loaded with standout edge rushers. Would the Eagles? Could the Eagles?

It really depends on Smith and how much he has put into his offseason. Is he bigger, stronger, faster and better? Is he ready to make his move?

Those who write off Smith after one year do so hastily and unfairly. It was disappointing that Smith didn't play as a rookie, no doubt. But the Eagles knew they had a raw prospect -- a former quarterback, remember -- on their hands and they banked on Smith's "upside" when they drafted him.

The time to deliver comes soon, and Smith's development will be a key component in the direction the Eagles take defensively in 2015.

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