As DeVonta Smith took the field for his first training camp practice of his NFL career, all eyes were on the Eagles’ first-round pick.
It went OK.
“Feel like individually I could have did a little better on some things,” Smith said. “But first day, just getting back into it, getting my mojo back.”
Smith, 22, had some ups and downs in his first real NFL practice. He uncharacteristically dropped a couple passes, but he also got in some good battles with three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay and then of course he stayed after practice for a bit with some other receivers to continue working with Jalen Hurts.
Wednesday was just the first day in what Smith and the Eagles hope will be a long and successful NFL career for the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 10 pick.
“Smitty is a great player,” Hurts said after practice. “I think he’s a great leader himself. The way he goes about his business, leads by example. Doesn’t really say much but he’s going to be ready to work and ready to go. I know that. He’s great.”
Because Greg Ward Jr. was absent from practice on Wednesday because of an non-COVID illness, Smith ascended to the first spot to go through wide receiver drills. In a group of wide receivers that’s exceptionally young, Smith is already beginning to separate himself as a player and then possibly as a leader.
During practice, Hurts went to Smith on three straight plays in the red zone. On the first, Smith was bottled up by Darius Slay, who knocked the ball away in the end zone. On the second, Hurts rifled a ball into the back of the end zone but it was behind Smith, who … gasp … dropped it. And on the third, Smith was lined up against Steven Nelson, gained some separation and Hurts hit him for their first touchdown of training camp.
It wasn’t a flawless first practice for Smith, but it was still exciting.
There’s no question that Smith will be a starter for the Eagles in Year 1 and he’ll also be their unquestioned No. 1 receiver. But because of his skill and his position with the team, expect him to rise as a leader too. He’s normally a very quiet person and he’ll mostly lead by example but during the spring, Smith said he was already beginning to come out of his shell more.
While rookie running back Kenny Gainwell mentioned to his cousin Fletcher Cox that the first day of practice was really fast, Smith might be more prepared to make the jump. After all, he just starred at Alabama and has played at the highest levels of college football … and dominated.
Smith admitted that Wednesdays practice seemed fast but he made it sound like that was simply the time away from the football field. The Eagles are expecting Smith to make the jump from college to the pros seamlessly and he seems up for the task.
What’s the biggest difference between college and the NFL?
“Football is football,” Smith said. “There’s not too much things you can do different. College it was just no-huddle, here you’re in the huddle. That’s the main thing. Getting used to the huddle every play.”
During Wednesday’s practice, Smith was lined up against Eagles CB1 Slay for a lot of the morning. At Alabama, Smith would face fellow first-round pick Patrick Surtain II in practice and their battles became legendary. Throughout the spring and now into the summer, Smith and Slay have formed a bond, often giving each other tips. After the first session of camp, Slay was already giving Smith feedback, notably about his releases.
It’s clear that if Smith doesn’t succeed in the NFL, it won’t be for lack of effort. When asked what he did in the layoff between the spring and training camp, Smith said he just worked. And that’s what he did after practice, when he continued to catch balls from Hurts.
Smith and Hurts obviously played together at Alabama and have a previous rapport but that’s not good enough, Smith said. They’re different players now than when they were previously teammates.
“Still trying to get into that rhythm,” Smith said. “Haven’t really done much together. I mean, a couple times we got together. But we’re still building. It’s just the first day of training camp, just getting back into it. But it’s going to come.”
Head coach Nick Sirianni has talked about how he wants the receiver position in his offense to be interchangeable, which means that Smith will have to learn multiple spots even as a rookie. Of course, the bright side of that for Smith is that he’ll eventually have a greater understanding of the offense as a whole even if he doesn’t move around all that much.
There’s no question the Eagles and their fans have high expectations for Smith’s rookie year. After missing on several receiver draft picks in recent years, there’s true optimism that Howie Roseman nailed this one and that Smith will become a star just like he was in college.
How does Smith manage those expectations?
“Just keep the main thing the main thing,” he said. “Know what I’m here for and focus on the task at hand.”
One day down. Many more to go.
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