Matt Slocum/Associated Press
When Marcus Smith’s name was called in the first round of the draft, it was widely assumed the Eagles were preparing for life after Trent Cole. The two-time Pro Bowler turns 32 this year and is a likely cap casualty in 2015 when, according to Spotrac, his salary is scheduled to rocket north of $11 million.
Some analysts even had Smith pushing Cole for playing time this season. However, as of the first few weeks of OTAs, the two of them don’t even play the same position. Matt Allibone for CSNPhilly.com reports the rookie outside linebacker has practiced exclusively on the left side of the defense behind Connor Barwin.
While most expected the Louisville product to challenge the 10-year veteran Cole for playing time on the right side, Smith has so far learned only Barwin’s position, also known as the “Jack” linebacker.
It is unlikely that Smith will seriously threaten Barwin for the starting spot, but at the very least, playing behind him may help Smith learn the multiple responsibilities that outside linebackers in Billy Davis’ defense need to master.
It’s an interesting development to say the least, but it makes sense. A converted quarterback, Smith is very raw for a pass-rusher coming out of college, to the point where he could struggle to contribute in that role as a first-year player. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cole rushed the passer 78 percent of the time on passing plays in ’13.
However, Smith’s tremendous athleticism can still be put to good use on the left side, where Barwin is more a jack of all trades. PFF’s numbers indicate Barwin dropped into coverage more than any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
Brandon Graham’s continued presence on the roster might be forcing Smith to the left side as well, as Graham is not equipped to play that position.
It’s entirely plausible Smith is viewed as the likely long-term solution for Cole on the right side, but the coaching staff believes he’ll have more opportunities to get on the field this year in the Jack role. It doesn’t hurt for a versatile player like Smith to learn multiple positions, either. Whatever the case exactly, this is not the situation everybody was expecting.