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May 24, 2016

Jim Schwartz: Marcus Smith could thrive in Eagles' new scheme

Eagles NFL
100415MarcusSmith Michael Perez/AP

Marcus Smith won't need to do much to show improvement over his first two seasons with the Eagles.

The 26th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, outside linebacker defensive end Marcus Smith failed to live up to expectations in his first two seasons, both of which came in Chip Kelly's -- and then-defensive coordinator Billy Davis' -- 3-4 scheme. 

And typically, you don't want a young player to be forced to learn an entirely new system. But in Smith's case, the transition from 3-4 to 4-3 (with a hint of wide-9) under first-year head coach Doug Pederson and, specifically, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may actually be a blessing in disguise.

After all, it can't get much worse for the former first-round pick, right?

Marcus Smith, LB: In two years, Smith has seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. There's not much more that needs to be said than that. In year three, he'll be transitioning from a 3-4 OLB spot that (in theory) best fit his skill set, to a 4-3 DE spot where he could be out of place. Just as concerning for Smith is that he has not even been able to play much on special teams, when clearly, he has more physical ability than other players who do. It's do or die for Smith in 2016, and optimism should be low.  [Jimmy Kempski |]

Following practice on Tuesday, Schwartz met with the media at the NovaCare Complex and sounded optimistic about the 24-year-old's chances of turning it around in his system. 

"I think the biggest thing when you talk about a young player is allowing him to grow at the right pace if that's the right way to put it," Schwartz said. "I'm going to try to reserve judgment on any of those guys until the pads go on. But this is a scheme that greatly limits what he's asked to do. It's very easy in theory; difficult in execution. But in theory, it should allow him to play fast and attack spots. It'll give him a little less responsibility, but hopefully, it'll allow him to make a greater impact. He's very athletic, great size and hes done very well so far [this offseason]. But again, let's reserve judgment on any of these guys until they get pads on."

And when it comes to the "simplicity" part of Schwartz's quote, that won't be exclusive to Smith. It's part of the reason he's adopted that scheme -- one that he's been quite successful in utilizing. 

In fact, Schwartz spoke about how, while he was in Tennessee, the team debated what scheme would best fit Jevon Kearse, before ultimately opting for a 4-3 because it would make things easier on him.

"We decided to try to make it as simple as we could for him," Schwartz said of Kearse. "We put him in one spot and just let him attack and let him rush the passer and let him rush the edge. And we had some success with that."

He went on to explain the rest of his philosophy on defensive scheme that I outlined in the tweet above, and here are those full comments:

"And philosophically, I think the thing that's guided that has been trying to make it as simple as we can. It's a coaches job to make a complex game simple for the players. It's our job to make it where they can digest it. There's a lot of things going on on the field. Offenses running more uptempo now, different formations, there's a million different things going on, and they have to process all that. Our job is to try to streamline the information and allow them to play fast. You know, give them confidence. I think that the other part of the 4-3 is when you can affect the passer with four guys -- when you're not forced to blitz to get to the quarterback, you're in a very good position on defense.

"And I've been there before where you can't get pressure and you have to blitz. It's not a great feeling. You want to blitz on your terms. You want to blitz when the situation is right, not because, 'Well, we can't generate a pass rush, so what do we do?' So allowing those guys to keep it simple and to be able to rush with four and not thinning yourself out in coverage, can also take some of the big plays away from the offense."

Whether or not the change to a 4-3 will benefit Smith remains to be seen. We'll have to at least wait until the pads go on. And when it comes to a third-year player who couldn't even get on the field on special teams, we'll likely have to see him produce once the games actually count before buying even a little bit in on Smith.

In theory, though, it sounds like a good plan.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin