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July 31, 2023

Nolan Smith has the personality, drive to become the next Eagles fan favorite

"A lot of things can be eliminated, a lot of MAs, a lot of mistakes, by just going fast and hitting the s*** out of somebody." Yeah, Philly's going to love this kid.

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6.1.23_EaglesNolan-Smith-defense_ColleenClaggett-9559.jpg Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Nolan Smith #3 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on during a Philadelphia Eagles practice at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pa. on June 1, 2023.

Listen to Nolan Smith talk for a minute and it becomes immediately clear that he's going to be a big fan favorite for the Eagles.

For example, take his response on Sunday to how he felt about getting first-team reps in training camp right out of the gate. Thrown into the fire? Hardly. 

"S***, it's football," Smith said. "That's what I came here for. I don't think it's being thrown into the fire. It don't matter. Reps are reps – 1s, 2s, or 3s. I'm just here to play football and help my team to the best of my ability. I'm a rookie. I'm not expecting to do much. I'm just expecting to try and help my team, and learn from the older guys while I'm here."

Or what he said his goal was for year 1 in the NFL after fellow first-round pick and former Georgia teammate Jalen Carter said his was to win Defensive Rookie of the Year a couple of days prior.

"Help my team win. That's my goal every day, and just learn more. Soak in all that BG [Brandon Graham] knowledge, BG and DB [Derek Barnett], and those guys in my room, [Josh Sweat], [Haason Reddick], that's my goal. Takes as much from the game as possible as they leave me, just so I can elevate myself every day." 

Or his thoughts about finally getting pads on soon.

"Man, I just can't wait. A lot of things can be eliminated, a lot of [missed assignments], a lot of mistakes, by just going fast and hitting the s*** out of somebody, so that's what I can't wait to do."

Or his approach to the game and how he feels his relationship with his former Georgia/now Eagles teammates – among Carter, Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, and Kelee Ringo – has carried over from college. 

"Man, you know, I tell people I'm like the BG of the group. I'm always smiling, I'm always laughing, trying to get guys going and I tell them: 'We have the most perfect job in the world. We get to come out here, play football, and fly around, hit m*****f***ers, so there ain't nothing better than that. So I just try to always have a smile on my face."

Yeah, you probably get the point by now. Philly is going to absolutely love this kid – provided it doesn't already. 

Taken 30th overall this past April as yet another selection off that dominant, national championship-winning Bulldogs defense in the SEC, Smith was seen by some as a late-round pick who could potentially end up as the biggest steal of the 2023 draft. 

And so far in camp, even though you can only glean so much from within the trenches on drills ran in shorts and shells, Smith's general athleticism on and off the defensive line has already turned heads. 

Fletcher Cox is back for at least another year, and so is Brandon Graham, alongside fellow veterans Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett to anchor the defensive line.

But tomorrow is already waiting in the wings. 

Davis, last year's first-round pick out of Georgia, is expected to take on more responsibility on the interior in year 2, Carter was picked up at ninth overall to bridge the gap on the inside too, Nakobe Dean is right behind them as the defensive signal caller at linebacker this season, and the hope for Smith is that he'll also contribute immediately while providing a seamless transition into the next era off the edge. 

It's a lot to ask, but the talent is there, and with a few of his just as heralded college teammates coming up alongside him, and all of them learning under a group of the franchise's most-accomplished vets (who have seen just about everything), Smith is in a very unique position to succeed. And he knew it from the moment he first set foot in the NovaCare Complex.

"Man, the first day," Smith said. "The [vets] came up to me and I told them 'I don't know nothin', I'm here to learn.' and they said 'Man, we're here to give you whatever.' I mean, guys like even Sweat, like me and Sweat have different body types, but I just learn a lot from his criteria and his toolbag...It's just amazing."

Even when it's a struggle. 

In a few of those first-team reps, All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson had the assignment on Smith and, unsurprisingly, won the bulk of them. But rep-by-rep, piece-by-piece, Smith said the Eagles' all-time O-line great is helping him slowly but surely improve. 

"I'm learning more about myself and he's teaching me stuff day by day," Smith said. "Even after he beat me on a ton of reps, he still comes over and tells me how I can get better and what things I can do differently. Our vets have been showing us nothing but love because the ultimate goal is to help us win."

And Smith wants to help the Eagles do that too. 

So thrown into the fire? Hardly. 

He's diving right in with a smile on his face. 

And Philly's going to love him because of that.

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