During his two-week layoff from practice, DeVonta Smith stood on the sidelines, following along snap-by-snap while studying a play call sheet.
It wasn’t enough to just watch practice. He wanted to study practice.
“That’s the mental side of it,” he said. “That’s staying mentally locked in, knowing what you’re doing, just hearing the play call, knowing what each person’s supposed to be doing.
“Even when you’re not in, still taking those mental reps (is important). Knowing you can’t be out here, the mental side of it is what you have to attack.”
On Monday, Smith returned to practice for 1-on-1s and on Tuesday he was back on the field for team drills against the Patriots, just 17 days after suffering a sprained knee on the same fields at the NovaCare Complex.
“Felt good just to be out there and having the feeling of doing some stuff, going against somebody,” he said. “Overall, it’s just a happy feeling.”
You learn a lot about players when they face a little adversity, and Smith faced it just four days into his first NFL training camp.
He responded by pouring everything he had into staying mentally attuned to what his teammates were doing, even if he couldn’t be out there on the field.
“That’s very important because once you come back you still have to be there mentally, you still have to know what you’re doing,” he said after practice. “I feel like I was locked in mentally.”
It’s huge for the Eagles to get Smith back on the field. They need him.
The other wide receivers are starting to make plays. Jalen Reagor has had a few good days in a row, Quez Watkins has been outstanding, Travis Fulgham has started catching some passes and Greg Ward is always going to be Greg Ward.
But for this offense to operate at high efficiency and for Jalen Hurts to have a chance to really play consistent football, Smith has to be a star.
Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner only practiced three days before he got hurt. Now he’s got 3 ½ weeks to get ready for the opener in Atlanta.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I feel good. Just taking it step by step, continuing to get more comfortable with it. Just really just a mental thing. I know everything happens for a reason so I attack(ed) my rehab and got back out here. I trusted the (medical and training) staff we have to put me in the best situation and they did that. I feel good.”
Nick Sirianni said earlier in the day he wants Smith to play in at least one of the two remaining preseason games, and he didn’t rule out the 22-year-old Alabama star playing Thursday night against the Patriots.
And Smith sure wants to get out there either Thursday or a week from Friday against the Patriots.
“Most definitely, you need every rep you can get, so every rep I can get I’m going to take,” he said. “You can never take too many reps.
“Ultimately, it’s not my decision. Whatever the coaches want me to do. I believe in them, I trust in them, they put me in the best situation.”
And is he 100 percent?
“We getting there," Smith said.
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