Fifth-round pick Telvin Smith has already made a positive impression. Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union identified the ex-Florida State ace as a standout at Jacksonville's rookie minicamp:
On Friday, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Smith reacted quickly to a check-down pass, showing off his burst. Later in the practice, he was responsible for second-round pick Marqise Lee in the slot. Quarterback Blake Bortles, the third-overall pick, looked to Lee the whole play while rolling out, but Smith had Lee covered. Bortles kept the ball, running out of bounds. Babich ran 20 yards to go celebrate with Smith.
Carlyon's recap of some brief Smith-led action is important in understanding why he can win a starting role on this season's defense. The key word is versatility.
As a safety-sized linebacker, Smith gives Bradley's front seven and nickel schemes greater flexibility. Being able to line him up in the slot and not worry about his speed staying with a receiver is a massive bonus.
It means Bradley can keep his secondary in a familiar coverage shell, and not have to disrupt the structure by moving safeties around to cover slot receivers and spread alignments.
Smith would be severely undersized in most schemes, but not the one Bradley runs. He was defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks when seventh-rounder Malcolm Smith, a 226-pounder, joined the team.
Smith won a starting job and eventually became Super Bowl MVP last season. Bradley knows the value of quick and light linebackers who can really run and cover.
Those qualities will give Smith the edge over veteran Dekoda Watson. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers special teamer is useful on the blitz and has the physicality a strong-side linebacker usually needs.
But in a scheme defined by speed and swarming pursuit, the Jags will be able to do more with Smith.