Marcus Smith has had a rather unspectacular NFL debut so far. He has spent time splitting reps with the first, second and third teams, although a majority of reps the first-rounder has received have come with the third time.
Through two preseason games, his workload on defense far exceeds any other rookie. This is indication that Chip Kelly wants to quickly assimilate Smith into the NFL, but his lukewarm performance has left fans somewhat uneasy.
Despite his high number of snaps, Smith finished the first game with two total tackles (one solo) and a pass deflection in the first preseason game., while finishing with two total tackles (one solo) in the second. This isn’t exactly what the overwrought Eagles fans expected.
The silver lining here is the body of work he was given. While he is yet to impress anyone, Smith has spent time rushing the passer, playing the run and even dropping to the flat for pass coverage.
Scouts believed that he would enter the league as a pass rusher, but also noted that he may struggle in the “jack” linebacker position, citing raw pass-rush potential as the reason. Smith’s go-to move is the speed rush, which was well on display against the Bears, but was highly ineffective. This will only expand the blurry line between the “stud-or-dud” contingency surrounding Smith. He barely registered on the list of first round picks that circulated mock drafts around the country, and analysts and fans believe this may be the barometer as to why he shouldn’t have been selected so early.
Smith was selected in order to fill three holes with one plug. The Eagles defense struggled in all aspects last season, and Smith could play almost any position in the front seven of Kelly’s 3-4 defense. He can hold his own in pass coverage, and poses as a threat as a pass rusher or run-stopper.
Many analysts are already either praising or ridiculing rookies in their new roles, and Smith is no exception. They fail to realize that no matter how deep their analysis is, we are still only two preseason games into the 2014 campaign. A player’s performance in one exhibition game doesn’t even fit into the parameters of empirical analysis of player skill, or potential, for the matter. Most players didn’t even play more than one quarter in comparison to Smith.
He didn’t turn any heads, but he needed to feel out the intricacies of the professional level. No one ever claimed Smith would become an instant star. His praise derives solely from his raw potential. Preseason analysis is only a step below a pseudoscience. One big play can suddenly lead to foaming of the mouth by fans and a spike in a player’s jersey sales.
I digress. Ignore the lamentations to the contrary. There is a spot for Marcus Smith II in the NFL, and the way he carves that space is up to him as either a pass rusher, run stuffer, or something in between.