Year Two: DE Bryan Smith's Opportunity To Play for the Eagles in 2009

Leo PizziniAnalyst IJune 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 1: Defensive lineman Bryan Smith #63 of the Philadelphia Eagles run during minicamp practice at the NovaCare Complex on May 1, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

In the third round of the 2008 draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Bryan Smith, defensive end from Division 1-AA McNeese State.  He was the 11th defensive lineman selected in that draft.

Smith is looking to prove he can bring some value to this team as he competes for a role in a very crowded meeting room for defensive ends.

Defensive End Prospect Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith stands at 6'2" and weighs in at 250 lbs.  He has been trying to build more mass, but has also stated that he feels good about playing at or around 250 lbs.

Smith is a very interesting prospect. 

He is conventionally undersized for an Eagles' defensive end.  In fact, Chris Gocong was converted to strong side linebacker from defensive end and weighs about 265 lbs.

When being prospected, many NFL scouts figured Bryan Smith would be converted to the popular defensive-end-linebacker-hybrid in the NFL, yet he has never played a down at linebacker at any point in his football career. 

He has also never played a down in an NFL regular season game.

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At McNeese State, Bryan Smith was a two time Division 1-AA All-American and conference defensive player of the year.  He recorded 31 sacks and 187 tackles from 2005 through 2007. 

He completely dominated at that level of football and was ranked a top small school prospect along with Eagles' teammate Joe Mays.

Smith is known for his burst and straight line speed coming off of the edge and rushing the passer.  At the NFL combine in 2008, Smith ran a somewhat disappointing 4.75 second forty yard dash. 

He has been rumored to run in the 4.5 second range.

Setting Role Expectations for Bryan Smith in 2009

Bryan Smith doesn't appear to be getting serious consideration at any of the defensive end positions for this upcoming season.  Where he fits in the mix of defensive ends is not a very clear picture for Smith.

Trent Cole has been the total package on the right end, and the coaches are really looking to Victor Abiamiri to step up and be the playmaker on the left side.

In pass rushing situations, the Eagles have found some success with Darren Howard stepping into the interior line and using sack specialist Chris Clemons as an edge rusher at left end.

Smith could find himself in the Chris Clemons role in 2009.  Clemons had some success later in the season, but he also disappeared at times. 

This is an excellent opportunity for Smith to come in and produce.  Left end on third and long could be Smith's shot at game time if he demonstrates that he can provide more reliable pressure during the preseason.

Unfortunately for Smith, the Eagles' coaching staff is pretty happy with Clemons as they should be.

What seems obvious is that Bryan Smith needs to get some time on the field in 2009, and he claims he now has the understanding of the defensive scheme that he needs to be able to contribute.

I also can't help seeing Bryan Smith in another position besides linebacker.  He appears to be formed in the raw mold of a Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas. 

Not to say that his expectations should be set to those kinds of hall-of-fame and greatest-ever standards, but it's fair to expect a shadow of their style of game from Smith.

There is a problem still.

In Jimmy Johnson's defensive scheme, the linebackers are critically required to do a quality job in coverage.

Omar Gaither was a former starter at middle linebacker and was bumped from the weak side linebacker position (in 2008) by Akeem Jordan, largely for his pass coverage abilities.

Chris Gocong has been progressing in his coverage, and, toward the end of last season, he fared much better in his first starting season at strong side linebacker.

Bryan Smith has no pass coverage experience, which would be most important for the weak side linebacker duties. The WILL spot is being contested primarily by Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither. 

A role for Smith may develop if Chris Gocong can't get the pressure, that is expected of him, off of the strong side on passing downs.  Bryan Smith could come in to provide additional edge pressure in those situations.

I can't help but feel Gocong (in 2008) was more of a solid overall strong side linebacker than the pass rush specialist he has been billed to be.

The one unquestionable hallmark of J.J.'s defense is the intrinsic design to get players who can get to the quarterback on the field and in a position to do so.

I can imagine Johnson or interim coordinator Sean McDermott pulling Brodrick Bunkley, Victor Abiamiri, and Chris Gocong on third and long and inserting Darren Howard, Chris Clemons, and Bryan Smith on the strong side to put massive pressure on the opposing quarterback. 

What if Bryan Smith Does Not Get on The Field in 2009?

In the NFL, anything can happen.

But, it's not likely that the Eagles will let Trent Cole or Victor Abiamiri walk away easily at any point.

Jaqua Parker and Chris Clemons stand a better chance of being a lower priority in the Eagles' long term plans, and Darren Howard is the oldest defensive end on the roster. 

He is still playing well, but his role was limited in 2008 despite his productivity.

If Bryan Smith can survive next year's crop of defensive linemen or possibly Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft, a position may open up for Smith to bump Darren Howard, Jaqua Parker, or Chris Clemons in 2010.