One year ago he was the Eagles' "other" rookie from North Dakota State preparing to play in his first preseason game, and cornerback C.J. Smith thought the football world was turned upside down, spinning a million miles an hour. Now Smith has a grasp of reality, and with that is a level of confidence far removed from 2016.
Monday's practice at the NovaCare Complex, of the indoor variety due to heavy rain in South Philadelphia, was another indication of just how far Smith has come. He had his hands on the football at least twice, aggressively jumping routes and closing on receivers. Smith, working with the No. 2 defense throughout this Training Camp, now has sights set on the opening preseason game on Thursday night in Green Bay with a very positive mindset.
"I was like everybody else last year. I didn't know what to expect. Everything was new. The NFL was new," Smith said as he came off the field on Monday. "The hashes on the field were different (from college hashmarks). The travel, the tempo, everything.
"Now I've been through it all. I had the chance to play in four preseason games. Then I watched a lot of ball during the regular season and learned about situations and what to expect and I learned about my coaches, things like that. I think now I'm playing faster. I'm playing with more confidence. I've been through all of this before."
Smith had an interesting journey last year, pushing all the way to the final cutdown before he was released in September. Smith was quickly added to the practice squad and spent five weeks there before a promotion to the 53-man roster.
He appeared in 10 games, mostly on special teams. Smith played one snap on defense, in the victory over Atlanta at Lincoln Financial Field.
"It was a great experience. I learned something new every day," Smith said. "Mostly, I learned that I can play and play well at this level. It's about consistency. I was an undrafted guy, coming from a smaller school, and to step up like I did in the preseason is something I will carry with me my entire career. I came out and I made plays. I still have a chip on my shoulder, that I can be on the field and compete with these guys. You see them getting drafted and here I am a small, FCS guy and I was right there and it didn't matter that I wasn't drafted or where I came from. I produced."
Smith needs to produce more to help the Eagles' wide-open cornerback picture in 2017. He said he would like to be more consistent – a goal for every player – in these preseason games to come. Playing time is there for the earning. Smith, with a year of the NFL under his belt, is well-equipped for the challenge.
The theory in the NFL is that a player makes his greatest jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Smith understands, now that he has perspective.
and Patrick Robinson – who had a pick-six off of a Carson Wentz pass in Monday's practice – as the starting cornerbacks to date. Nothing, though, is set in concrete.
When it's all said and done, where will Smith stand? Hey, did anyone think, one year ago, that he'd play in 10 regular-season games with the Eagles as a rookie? Anything is possible for Smith, who enters the preseason schedule feeling like he's trending in the right direction to make a difference with the Eagles' defense this year.