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August 13, 2023

Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith get their 'Welcome to the NFL' moments

Carter made an immediate impact in the Eagles' pass rush against Baltimore, while Smith flashed his athleticism but had a couple of plays he would like back.

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8.6.23_EaglesPractice_Jalen-Carter-1855.jpg Colleen Claggett/For PhillyVoice

Rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter goes to meet fans during the Eagles' open practice at the Linc on August 6, 2023.

The "Welcome to the NFL" moment hit in two different ways Saturday night down in Baltimore. 

For Jalen Carter, it was a QB hit from the jump. On the very first snap of the ninth overall draft pick's career, and matched up against his old Georgia teammate Ben Cleveland, Carter immediately shifted inside and booked it straight toward Ravens quarterback Josh Johnson, who had nowhere to go. 

Johnson tried to roll right, but Carter already had his legs wrapped up with fellow first-rounder and former Bulldog Nolan Smith also closing in off the edge. The only thing to do was throw it away.

Speaking of Smith, his moment...well...

"Running down on kickoff and coming free, thinking 'Man, I'm about to make a tackle!'" Smith recalled postgame, but the returner had other plans and made a cut right by him. 

"I said 'Oh man, I'ma get my ass cursed out for this one,' and I knew it," Smith continued. "So man, I'll say the returners are real. They're a lot better than guys in college, just because they got quick feet and they see you. It's not like some guys just see you in college and take the hit. He saw me and gave me a little juke, so I wish I could have that one back."

But hey, win some, lose some. Welcome to the Philadelphia Eagles. Welcome to the NFL. 

The good news is it's only preseason. If a rookie gets the ball rolling right away, awesome. If not, there's still plenty of time, and reps.

Every pro has been there. It's part of the process, and right now Smith, after not having seen game action since last October because of a torn pec, is just happy to be going through it. 

"A lot of people don't know I just came off of surgery, so I was just happy to be out there hittin' somebody," Smith, who the Eagles picked up at 30th overall back in April, said. "Man, I just know my mom was in the stands just yelling my name 'Get closer! Get closer!' and that's all I think about. She's my 'Why', she's what pushes me."

And on a journey that's only just getting started. 

Saturday night's preseason opener, which the Eagles went on to lose 20-19, was far from all bad for Smith. 

Yeah, he wants that kick return back, and he did get caught failing to contain the edge on what became a big run to the outside for Baltimore, but he was in on Carter's QB pressure and generated a QB hit of his own late in the second quarter. 

On the whole, the 22-year old played 24 snaps in his first taste of the NFL, and at multiple points, flashed the tools and athleticism that could go on to make him one of the league's next great edge rushers.

But until then, Smith said postgame that he'll go over the film with defensive ends and outside linebackers coach Jeremiah Washburn and build from there. 

"It's nothing but moving ahead for me," Smith said. "So I gotta put this one behind me, look at the things that I did worse and try to make better on them. Just be very coachable every day and just keep building [block-by-block] one day at a time."

Carter will build on Saturday night as well, though likely on a more accelerated timeline. The Eagles' interior rusher of tomorrow played only two snaps against the Ravens, but then again, that was all he really needed to make an impact and show enough for the Philly coaching staff to want to pull him early. 

"This is the moment I've always been ready for," Carter said. "I got here and I'm ready to play."

Welcome to the Philadelphia Eagles. Welcome to the NFL.

MORE: Eagles-Ravens preseason snap count analysis

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