Top pick Smith starts out behind Barwin

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith
Posted: June 03, 2014

The Eagles did not draft Marcus Smith with the expectation that he would be a Day 1 starter, so it was no surprise that Smith did not line up with the first-team defense during organized team activities last week. Smith took most of his snaps with the third-team defense Thursday.

But Smith, who is expected to improve the Eagles' pass rush, does not appear to be behind Trent Cole on the depth chart. He's behind Connor Barwin on the weak side.

Cole's spot is called the "Predator" in defensive coordinator Bill Davis' system. It's an outside linebacker whose role is mostly as a pass rusher. Barwin's spot is the "Jack," which requires more versatility. Barwin dropped into coverage more often than Cole, and Davis said Barwin wore "more hats" than any player on the defense.

"They just want me to master that one position and get everything going, and then we'll go forward from there," Smith said after Thursday's practice.

The Eagles begin their second week of OTAs Monday. They have three training sessions this week and four next week before concluding the offseason program with a mandatory minicamp June 17-19.

Smith's development will be a continuing plotline this spring. Where he lined up the first week of OTAs is not necessarily an indication of how he will be used come September; Lane Johnson, the 2013 first-round pick, did not line up with the first-team offense in the first OTAs last year before starting every game during the season.

Starting Smith behind Barwin makes sense, even if Smith's pass-rush skills are going to be needed this season. Barwin, who had five sacks in 2013, rushed the passer on only 58 percent of passing plays last season. He dropped into coverage the rest of the time.

One way the Eagles believe they can improve their pass rush is by unleashing Barwin, an idea that would excite him. But the Eagles simply could not do it last season because the other outside linebackers did not have as much experience in the 3-4 defense as Barwin. Cole rushed the passer on 78 percent of the passing snaps.

If Smith is able to play the "Jack" role, then the Eagles would have more versatility. Smith said he dropped into coverage on nearly half the snaps at Louisville last season.

"I like it a lot," Smith said. "It kind of expands my vision of what's going on. . . . Once you get out here and get to stand up and look at everything that's going on, not just having your hand in the dirt, it helps you see everything."

Smith is listed at 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, with a long frame that could carry more weight. He said he fluctuates between 255 and 261 pounds, depending upon how much he sweats at practice. The Eagles have him on a nutrition plan to ensure he does not add unneeded weight. Although Smith is not averse to adding muscle, he believes his current body type works for what the Eagles expect of him.

"I think I'm the perfect size for an outside linebacker," Smith said.

Smith's No. 90 jersey includes "Smith II" on the back in tribute to his father of the same name. He said he does not care what he's called, though, and he has tried to keep the low profile of a rookie.

The big difference between Smith and the other rookies will be his salary when he signs. Smith is the only Eagles draft pick not yet in the fold.

"I'm not really too worried about that right now," Smith said. "It's not an issue at all."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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