Eagles

Uncertain about role, Marcus Smith being noticed

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Uncertain about role, Marcus Smith being noticed

About two dozen media members swarmed Jordan Matthews as he walked off the practice field Thursday afternoon.

Everybody loves talking to the rookie wide receiver.

A few minutes later, first-round pick Marcus Smith walked off the field, and almost nobody noticed.

Nobody seems all that interested in the rookie linebacker.

While Matthews has quickly become a media darling and fan favorite because of his non-stop hustle, team-first attitude and catchy sound bites, Smith has flown under the proverbial radar the first week of training camp.

It may seem like nobody is noticing the rookie first-round pick. But his teammates sure are.

And they can’t stop praising him.

“Rookies, you’ve got a lot on your plate, so it can get discouraging at times, but Marcus, he’s a high-spirit guy and he’s been good about it,” DeMeco Ryans said.

“He’s really stepped in and you really don’t see him as a rookie. He’s like one of us already, like a vet already, the way he’s stepped in and just meshed with everybody in the locker room.”

Unlike Matthews, who will start the season in the slot, Smith’s role is undefined right now, another reason he isn’t getting a ton of attention these days.

But a week into training camp, you’re starting to hear teammates and coaches talk about Smith in terms of what he can do instead of what he can’t do.

“He’s going to get on the field, he’s going to play,” Connor Barwin said. “It’s exciting to think what he’s going to be able to do, out there with Trent [Cole] or out there with me.

“The one area I’ve been impressed with him is his natural ability to cover. I think he’s very patient. He doesn’t know exactly where he needs to be yet — he knows a little bit but not exactly where receivers and backs might go. But you can see his athleticism in coverage.”

Smith has been repping at both outside linebacker spots but mainly at Barwin’s Jack position, a hybrid of setting the edge, stopping the run, dropping into coverage and rushing the passer.

“I’m just trying to teach him the defense, really,” Barwin said. “I’m just trying to let him know any tricks I know. I think he’s doing fine right now in camp. I think his head is spinning a little bit, but it’s a lot for a rookie, your first year. I’ve been there before.

“He’s picking everything up and just trying to tell him to improve and think about one little thing each day to improve on, and he’ll get where he needs to be.”

Smith has had a lot thrown at him in a short period of time, but he said he feels like he’s been able to stay on top of everything.

It only took him a couple days to move up with the second team, and the way defensive coordinator Billy Davis likes to substitute, significant reps once the regular season starts are a possibility.

“I was definitely going to come in and try to get it down pat as quickly as I could,” Smith said. “Not being in school and graduating, this is all I do, this is my life now, this is the world I live in, and I think it was a lot easier to grasp everything because you’re doing it every day.

“I want to show the team they can count on me when I’m in the game. Whenever they put me in the game, I can be the kind of guy who can go make a play.”

Nobody is concerned with Smith’s athleticism. That’s not an issue. It’s all about the mental side of it. His ability to match the mental side with the physical side over the next few weeks will determine how much he plays.

If any.

“The toughest thing for Marcus is him just getting the playbook down,” Ryans said. “We do a lot on defense, so for him it’s just getting it down.

“We’ve had a year to learn everything, so we’re all comfortable. But for Marcus and the other first-year guys, they really have to learn things on the fly, and that can be tough. But we just tell him, don’t get too overwhelmed with it, it’ll come.

“Marcus has been doing a really good job, been showing up, been making some plays for us. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”

You have to go pretty far back to find an outside linebacker who made an impact with the Eagles as a rookie.

Omar Gaither started a few games at outside backer at the end of 2006 and played OK, but you have to go back to 1996 and Ray Farmer to find a rookie who was a real difference maker. Farmer is now the Browns’ general manager.

“Marcus is a very hard worker and a very intelligent guy and very athletic,” Davis said. “So you have a bunch of characteristics that you look for in all Eagles players. He cares a lot about the game.

“He's picked it up fairly quickly, and one of the biggest things that attracted us to him was that Louisville and Charlie Strong's defense is a lot like ours, and the way they used him is a lot the way we use our Jack position.

“So he comes in not as an end, a 4‑3 end in college that we are converting to a 3‑4 outside backer. He's coming to us as a 3‑4 outside backer.”

Smith, just 22, said he no longer considers himself a rookie. He just doesn’t want to think that way.

Because if he gets in a game, he doesn’t want to think like a rookie. Or play like a rookie.

 “You know what, people might say you’re a rookie, but once you get out here on the football field, that rookie stuff goes out the window because they might need you right now,” he said.

“Because what if Connor Barwin goes down? What if Trent Cole goes down? What if I have to step in? That rookie stuff won’t matter because I have to go in there and make a play.

“That’s what I’m preparing to do. Be able to go make a play and help my team whenever I’m out there.”

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

In today's "Five Minutes with Roob," Reuben Frank chats with Eagles guard/center Josh Andrews:

Roob: Let's clear the air first. You're definitely not related to Shawn Andrews?

Josh Andrews: No, I'm not. No relation to Shawn Andrews at all.

Roob: So that's one positive. Do you get that a lot?

Andrews: I've got it a few times now, but no relation.

Roob: Alright well that's good to know. Now, you've got a really interesting story. You've been here four years now. Talk about when you came here in '14, were there a lot of teams trying to sign you out of Oregon State? How did that whole thing go?

Andrews: Went undrafted, about three teams tried to grab me, but felt like the best fit was for the Eagles and I've been here ever since.

Roob: It's really crazy because obviously, they like you. Obviously, Chip (Kelly) liked you. Obviously, Doug (Pederson) likes you. But you haven't had a chance to play. How do you balance being here, preparing like you're gonna play every week and not having gotten that chance yet?

Andrews: Just gotta have that mindset to get ready every week. That's how I've been since I've been here. My time is coming, I just gotta wait and do what's best for this team right now and keep us winning.

Roob: Now there was a really interesting thing on Tuesday, Jim Schwartz, without prompting, I don't know if you heard about this, he mentioned you as far as talking about how guys on the offense help the defense prepare. And he mentioned that you'll go to him and say, 'Hey we're figuring this out in running scout team.' Because you run scout team center or guard, I guess mainly center I would think. That's kind of unusual for a defensive coordinator to mention a scout team offensive lineman. What do you bring to him? What do you see from the first defense that can maybe help?

Andrews: Just blocking schemes you know, the way that they're ran. Say if (Fletcher Cox) needs help with something I'll be like 'I think this is the best way to go.' And it's been working. They've been getting home a lot this season and it's really been paying off for our defense.

Roob: How hard is it to not play?

Andrews: Man, it's tough. It's really tough. But just gotta keep going. I love playing this sport and I will continue as long as I can. 

Roob: I remember there was one game, I think it was 2015, where somebody got hurt and you ran on the field and then they didn't leave the game. 

Andrews: Oh yeah, that was against the Cowboys in 2015. Lane (Johnson) got hurt, pretty sure it was Lane. And I was about to go in and then he came back on the field. I was like, 'Ah man, that was my shot.' But, I gotta keep positive. Gotta keep that positive mindset. That's how I've been ever since I've been here.

Roob: Now you've actually been here longer than most of the team. (Jason) Kelce's a guy who's been here your whole time. What have you learned from being around him, watching him play, watching him practice?

Andrews: He's such a smart guy man. On the field, the way he just commands attention, the way he commands the offensive line is just impressive to see. I try to mimic that every time I step on the field. I've learned so much from him over these past four years and he's just a great player to learn from and be under. 

Roob: Now preseason games I guess are like your Super Bowl now, right? Cause that's your chance to play. What do those games mean to you? You're not playing a lot. A few of them you're playing a lot. But what does it mean to get out there and have a chance to play?

Andrews: It's gold man. That's everything for me right now. When I get a chance to get on that field, I give it all I got. I've done that ever since I've been here. That's just, like you said, my Super Bowl. Every time I go on that field I give it all I got. 

Roob: What's (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Stoutland meant to you? You've been around him a while now. 

Andrews: Great mentor. Great teacher. He's just been wonderful. He's really hard on us and it's for a good reason, to get us better and get us playing at a high level. That's the way he commands the player and I like that. 

Roob: What's special about this team now? You've been on some good teams and some bad teams since you've been here but you guys are rolling, 8-1, seven-game winning streak going into Dallas Sunday night. What do you like about the kind of vibe in this locker room?

Andrews: The vibe is awesome. Everyone's on the same page. Everyone's with each other. It's been really different from the past three teams I've been on. I feel like we're gonna go far with the team we got right now. 

Roob: Alright last question. Chip Kelly, do you think he's going to take the Florida job?

Andrews: Sheesh, I don't know. We'll see. That's a good question.

Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

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Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

Forget for a moment all the record-setting touchdown passes, all the dazzling third-down conversions and the highlight-reel red-zone heroics.

One of Carson Wentz's greatest accomplishments these last two years has just been playing football every Sunday. Being out there for his team without fail every week.

That alone puts him in an elite group.

Look around the league. Tyrod Taylor just got benched in Buffalo with the Bills in the playoff hunt. Trevor Siemian was benched just before the Broncos came to Philly. The 49ers benched Brian Hoyer a few weeks before facing the Eagles

Last we checked, the Browns have already benched DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan this fall.

Heck, even one-time Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco was benched by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh during a loss to the Jaguars.

We've been through all of that. That quarterback carousel. It never leads anywhere.

Wentz on Sunday night will start his 26th consecutive game. Every game the Eagles have played since opening day last year. He's one of only 12 quarterbacks who's started all his team's games over the last two years.

Elite quarterback play is huge for any football team, but quarterback stability is just as important. And Wentz is finally giving this franchise something it's lacked for much of the last quarter century.

Think about it.

From 1991 through 2015, a 25-year span, the only years an Eagles quarterback started 16 games were Donovan McNabb in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2008. And McNabb got benched in 2008.

From 2010 through 2015, the six years between McNabb and Wentz, the Eagles used seven different quarterbacks. Not only did the Eagles not win anything during that span, there didn't seem to be much of a future either. 

The Eagles were stuck trying to build a championship team without an elite quarterback. Which is almost impossible to do.

All of which led Howie Roseman to make the franchise-altering decision that the Eagles had to do anything possible, no matter how drastic, no matter how extreme, to get that guy and turn the franchise over to him.

That realization, that organizational decision and the series of trades that landed Wentz in Philadelphia guaranteed that the Eagles would have quarterback stability and a chance for sustained success for the foreseeable future.

Just by starting 25 games in a row, Wentz has done something no Eagles QB had done since McNabb started 31 straight from opening day 2003 through Week 15 of 2004. With the No. 1 seed locked up, he didn't play the last week of the season.

McNabb started 51 straight games from midway through 1999, when he replaced Doug Pederson, through Week 10 of 2002, when he broke his ankle against the Cards (but threw four touchdowns anyway).

And along with those two McNabb streaks and streaks by Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham, Wentz's run of 25 starts is already the Eagles' fifth-longest since Norm Van Brocklin started 36 straight from 1958 through 1960.

You've probably already picked up on the fact that the Eagles' greatest periods of success in the NFL's modern era — the 1960 championship and the 1980 and 2004 Super Bowl appearances — just happen to coincide with periods of tremendous quarterback stability.

And maybe very soon we can add another era to that list.

Just by being out there every Sunday, Wentz has separated himself from most quarterbacks in the NFL.

Of the 12 QBs who've started every game since opening day last year, only six have a career winning record. And of those six, only Wentz and Dak Prescott — both 24 — are under 28.

They'll meet for the third time Sunday night in Dallas, and whatever happens, both franchises are in good hands for the foreseeable future.

For the Eagles, these are heady days. Wentz is having an MVP season and Roseman and Joe Douglas have surrounded him with a deep and talented roster.

An entire generation of quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer — will be retiring in the next few years. And most of the young QBs lining up to replace them are unproven. Even guys like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson will be in their mid-30s in five years.

How many NFL teams know who their quarterback will be in, let's say, 2023? The Texans with Deshaun Watson, the Rams with Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota in Tennessee and probably Jameis Winston in Tampa. And the Eagles and Cowboys. Anybody else?

Most NFL teams are in a constant search for that elite quarterback. Not around here. Not anymore.

The most important question facing almost every NFL team is one the Eagles won't have to even think about for a decade.