Defensive end Bryan Smith showed a lot of promise the last time he suited up for the Eagles.
In the preseason finale against the Jets, Smith had 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three QB Hits.
The problem is that fans never saw the third-round pick out of McNeese State in uniform again for the rest of the season. It wasn't because of an injury. In fact, it was his positionmate Victor Abiamiri who was sidelined for the early part of the season as he recovered from a dislocated wrist.
The coaches simply didn't think Smith was ready to take the field. The Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year and finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award had 84 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in 2006 en route to Division I-AA All-America honors. Smith followed that up with a return trip to the All-America list as a senior as he finished his college career with 31 sacks, 187 tackles and 56.5 tackles for loss.
Once Smith was drafted, everyone learned how he didn't have enough money to eat all the time at school. At 245 pounds, Smith certainly didn't have the typical size of a defensive end. Then again, neither did Trent Cole when he was drafted by the Eagles in 2005 and now he weighs 270 pounds.
Smith is in Philadelphia now for the off-season conditioning program and his development is a key storyline to watch as training camp and the regular season approaches.
Defensive end certainly isn't a high-priority need for the Eagles, but it's certainly a position that always should be challenged. Generating pressure on the quarterback is always crucial to a team's success. With the announcement of the point of emphasis regarding how quarterbacks can be hit at the league meetings in California, the challenge to generate pressure increases that much more. The Eagles had 48 sacks last season, which was the third-highest total in the league. Darren Howard paced the team with 10 sacks, the most for him since he had 11 back in 2004. Cole followed up his 2007 Pro Bowl campaign with nine sacks. The other ends with more than two were Juqua Parker (5.0) and Chris Clemons (4.0).
The Eagles would love for Smith to be able to rotate in with Cole at the right end spot and take some of the pressure off of him. Abiamiri is expected to follow up his strong finish in 2008 with a significant increase in playing time on the left side. If Smith can contribute, the Eagles will have four quality ends who are 27 years or younger at the start of the season. And that's not including the two of the most productive ends from last season in Howard and Parker.
What the Eagles do draft weekend could say a lot about what they think of the present corps of defensive ends and its potential for the future.