Rookie Smith wants to add to his repertoire on defense

Posted: August 15, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Marcus Smith had 14 1/2 sacks last year at Louisville, which was the second in the country. Got most of them the same way most successful college edge-rushers get their sacks: by using his speed to beat the offensive tackle with an outside rush.

It hasn't taken the Eagles' first-round pick long, though, to realize his 4.6 speed won't be enough to regularly get him to the quarterback in the NFL.

"I've come to realize that speed, in the NFL, doesn't work as good as it did in college," Smith said yesterday after spending 2 hours in the pouring rain jousting with the Patriots' offensive linemen.

"You have to be a technician. You have to have all that down pat. Because that's what these tackles have. They've seen everything. They've seen speed. They've gone up against the great guys. So, when I come in here, that's what they use against me, and that's what I have to get in my repertoire."

Smith's repertoire still is a work in progress. If you're looking for the 6-3, 251-pound outside linebacker to be an instant-impact player for the Eagles this season, you'll probably be disappointed.

You could waterboard head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis and they still won't divulge their expectations for the first-round rookie. But if he gives them 400 snaps and five sacks this season, I guarantee you they'll do somersaults on the 50-yard line at the Linc.

"I think he's learning that he needs more of a counter [move]," veteran right guard Todd Herremans said. "And he's going to have to work on his technique a little more. But I think he's going to be a good player. I think he's developing and making really good strides.

"But it's just hard to get into the flow of the game right away as an edge-rusher. In college, they're used to just blowing by a lot of guys. And then you come in here and you've got tackles who are more patient and more technically sound. You know you're going to have to learn a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And in certain situations, you're going to have to rush people differently."

Sixteen edge-rushers were taken in the first round of the 2010-13 drafts. Only one - the 49ers' Aldon Smith - recorded double-digit sacks as a rookie (14). Eight of the other 15 had from five to eight sacks. The other seven players had fewer than five sacks in their first season, including the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul (4 1/2).

The 16 first-round edge-rushers averaged 479 snaps as rookies, with 11 playing 400 or more. The Bucs' Adrian Clayborn (20th pick in 2011) had the most rookie snaps (874) and the Titans' Derrick Morgan (16th pick in '10) had the fewest (112).

"I think I'm taking a step forward every day," said Smith, who got some work yesterday with the Eagles' No. 1 defense. "I just want to keep getting better."

Smith said the Eagles' two starting outside linebackers, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin, have taught him a lot since he was drafted. Barwin, who was selected by Houston in the second round of the '09 draft, played 367 snaps with 4 1/2 sacks as a rookie.

Cole, taken by the Eagles in the fifth round of the '05 draft, played 452 snaps and had five sacks his first year in the league. Cole has 79 career sacks, the second most in franchise history.

Smith said he's also benefited from the regular practice work he's gotten against Lane Johnson. Johnson, the Eagles' starting right tackle, has been working with the No. 2 offensive line in training camp because he will miss the first four regular-season games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

"Lane is a long-armed guy, and you can't really bull-rush long-armed guys," Smith said. "You've got to try and get under their pads and get to the quarterback."

Smith said his two best pass-rush moves right now are the "chop grab" and the "chop spin." The "chop grab" basically involves grabbing the back shoulder of the blocker and pulling yourself by him. The "chop spin" is a spin move used after grabbing the blocker's back shoulder.

"I'm trying to bring the bull rush into my repertoire, because that could be a changeup for me," he said. "People wouldn't think I'm going to do it, because I've always been a speed guy."

You must be strong to execute a bull rush successfully against NFL tackles. Smith said he's "pretty strong," but acknowledged he still has a ways to go.

"I need to get my legs stronger and my body built so that I can run over some of those big guys," he said. "Not just have a finesse game, but have a violence game, too."

I suspect that the premiere date for Smith's "violence game" probably is at least another year away.

"People are a lot better with their hands in the NFL," Herremans said of the offensive tackles Smith will face. "If they can get into the framework of [a pass-rusher], they can usually shut you down."

Herremans said the two most NFL-ready edge-rushers he has seen since he entered the league in '05 have been Cole and Pierre-Paul.

"Trent came in pretty solid," he said. "JPP was pretty explosive right from the jump. But he still had to learn the tempo of the game and stuff."

Mario Williams was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft. He had only 4 1/2 sacks as a rookie, but has averaged more than 10 sacks in the seven seasons since.

"I remember playing against Mario his rookie year," Herremans said. "Tra [Thomas] and I were on the left side. Of course, he was going up against Tra, who was a really good pass-pro. But it took him a while to get going, too. It's tough making that transition."


Email: pdomo@aol.com


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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