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Old 05-13-2009, 06:55 PM   #650
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Default Re: Philadelphia Eagles Offseason/Draft/Free Agency News

Here is a kid I'm interested in...

After a year off, Smith's set to rush in

Philadelphia Daily News

SOME DAYS, Bryan Smith really misses the Quarter Pounders. They were his favorite.

But, counterintuitive as it might seem, if you're going to put on weight to play defensive end in the NFL, you have to make sacrifices.

"When I drive by McDonald's, I look in but I don't stop," the Eagles' 2008 third-round draft choice said this week.

It's a strange place sometimes, pro football. In what other universe does a guy set out to gain 30 or 40 pounds when he gets out of college? While carefully avoiding fast food, and most of the other stuff that traditionally adds pounds?

Smith's lightning-fast first step got him drafted out of Division I-AA McNeese State, in Lake Charles, La. His 20-yard shuttle time of 4.40 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine was identical to that of Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, who ended up going sixth overall, to the Jets. But lots of people considered Smith a reach in the third round, because, as Smith acknowledges, he weighed 217 at the start of his senior season. That's a nice weight for a 6-2 safety, not for a guy who's going to be putting his hand down in front of 350-pound offensive tackles.

Why so light? Smith said money played a role. Hurricane Rita devastated McNeese housing in September 2005. Smith chose to live off-campus, on a stipend that he said barely covered the basics. Like many college students, he found paying for food a challenge, he said. His diet was poor. The Quarter Pounder was a feast.

Smith knew he could be bigger, maybe ought to be bigger. By the time he finished his college eligibility, his identical twin brother, Ryan, had completed his football career at Stephen F. Austin and was carrying 260 pounds on a frame that was, of course, just like Bryan's. Ryan was driving a beer truck for a living and making enough money to eat whatever he wanted.

Many draft experts projected Smith as an outside linebacker, even though he had been I-AA's dominant edge rusher his final two college seasons. The Eagles did not draft him as an outside linebacker. Defensive-line coach Pete Jenkins, a believer in strength over bulk, looked at all the top 2008 defensive ends on film and was unimpressed with the big names, finding them weak and less than impressive in using their hands to fend off blockers. Jenkins really liked the way the kid from McNeese State used his hands. Jenkins thought Smith looked a little like Trent Cole must have looked in college.

So defensive end it was, and Smith made it seem like less of a stab in the dark by nudging his weight to 231 by the draft, he said. He had to be careful, though. If he lost even a little quickness, he would no longer be the guy on that film Jenkins liked so much. Smith had to add muscle to an already muscular physique, without becoming bulky or top-heavy. Tricky, especially if you aren't on the A-Rod diet.

"I've worked out a lot, ate the right foods, taken a lot of protein," said Smith, who said he now weighs 250, heading toward 255, he hopes. "Eaten as much as I could, then worked out, so I wouldn't get fat with it. You've got to work real hard [as you add weight]. It's easier to be quick, when you're smaller."

Smith made a favorable impression in training camp, after getting over a hamstring injury, and did not look overmatched in preseason games. In the preseason finale against the Jets, he was credited with 11 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. When the season started, given the wrist surgery that delayed the start of Victor Abiamiri's year, Smith seemed likely to figure in the defensive-end rotation. Except it turned out he didn't.

Darren Howard, who had appeared to be drifting out of the picture a year earlier, put together his best Eagles season. Abiamiri recovered and came on strong down the stretch. Free-agent signee Chris Clemons started slow but finished strong. Smith remained on the 53-man roster, practiced every week. He was healthy, but he never played. Every game day, his name was announced among the inactives.

"You can't control everything," Smith said. "I learned that along with being a very physical sport, at this level, it's also a very mental sport. It's a long season. You have to stay mentally tough and mentally focused, to be able to come in day in and day out and learn what the coaches want you to learn."

The Eagles did not draft a defensive lineman last month, for only the second time in 11 drafts under Andy Reid. They seem to expect Smith to step forward this year, much as Abiamiri eventually did in his second season after playing very rarely as a rookie.

"I think it's an opportunity for me to go out and show what I can do. That's how I take that; I don't think I've got a spot [locked up] or anything," Smith said.

Obviously not. Despite positive reviews last preseason, Smith is the only healthy third-rounder in the Reid Era to never get in a game as a rookie. Winston Justice, drafted in the second round in 2006, never saw the field that year; Smith probably isn't hoping to match Justice's career arc.

Furthermore, Jenkins, the guy who might have been Smith's biggest advocate, retired this offseason. Former special-teams coordinator Rory Segrest is the new defensive-line coach.

"All we've had is minicamp, but so far, nothing much has changed. They pretty much do the same things," Smith said.

Though there are no draftees to fend off, none of last year's d-ends has left the fold, either. Smith might need someone to get hurt in order to get a real chance to show what he can do.

What does he think he needs to show the Eagles?

"I can do what they ask - I'm speedy and quick, I can play the run and also play the pass," Smith said. *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion,

read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at
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