DEVONTA SMITH, EAGLES ARE GRINDING FOR ANOTHER SUPER BOWL RUN
If Philadelphia Eagles fans are worried about a Super Bowl hangover this fall, there are mixed statistics you can look at to see for yourself.
Since the 2004 Eagles, who lost to the New England Patriots that season, of the 18 teams that lost in the Super Bowl, including the Birds, 12 made it back to the playoffs the following season.
That is promising, right? Throwing shade on that stat though, is the fact that only the 2018 New England Patriots came back to win the Super Bowl the following season.
That is a sobering number for Eagles Nation to absorb.
What is promising for the Eagles is that the Birds were on the upswing when they rolled through the NFC in 2022 and came within one bad break from hanging a banner.
Howie Roseman has made another remarkable offseason run with draft picks, free agent signings and inking a monster contract for the team’s franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Those are all great signs for Eagles Nation.
Another is the state of play at NovaCare. Virtually everyone is healthy and onsite in South Philly training to join the Pats in the Halls of Super Bowl lore.
The Eagles receiving corps is looking like it could have a breakout season as the top unit in football.
DeVonta Smith, entering his third season with the Eagles and along with A.J. Brown, tight end Dallas Goedert and recently acquired running backs D’Andre Swift make up one of the most formidable set of targets in the NFL.
Smith caught 95 passes for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022. The 2021 first round pick was asked how practicing against All Pro cornerbacks James Bradberry and Darius Slay would make him better as a receiver.
“They help a lot,” Smith said at a recent press gathering at NovaCare. “Every corner is different. I think that’s what makes it unique going against those guys every day because they’re two totally different corners.
“Bradberry is a more physical guy. He’s going to use his hands. Slay is more technique, he’s not going to be as physical so I think that helps me a lot to be able to go against two different guys every day at practice.”
The 24-year-old was asked how much does he tap into the minds of former players he comes across?
“It’s about picking those guys' brains, guys that have been there, done that.” Smith said. “The league has changed a lot since they played, but those guys, they’re football players watching the game now, so I’m pretty sure they can have their own Intel on things. I just pick their brains and see what I can get better at.”
BROWN TALKS ABOUT THE RECEIVER ROOM AND SMITH
All Pro receiver A.J. Brown, who the Eagles traded for on Draft Day 2022, agreed with Smith. He also talked about Goedert joining the receiving corps for some of the offseason practices.
“We’re just trying to pick each other’s brain, we’re all working together,” Brown said at a recent press gathering. “That’s the fun part of this part (of the offseason) where we’re at right now.
“We’re working together; we’re trying to learn from each other. This is the time to try things. We’re just sharpening our iron. He (Goedert) has been doing a great job, I’m excited for him.
“The more he works with us, the more he’s going to be moving around like us. I’m definitely excited for that. The more guys that come to work with us, the better.”
Brown was asked about the receiving room and about the progress Smith has been making.
“I think, collectively, the group, just taking the next step,” Brown said. “I think collectively the group is taking the next step. We have so many playmakers. There are only so many opportunities and [Smith] is making the most of the opportunities. He’s going to continue to get better. He’s going to continue to strive.
"The guy’s a great route runner. We were watching the highlights in there from the workout. He’s a really great route runner. The sky’s the limit…he’s going to continue to get better.”
THE AURA OF COMMAS
One of the most talked about topics regarding the Eagles this offseason is the contract signed by quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The 24-year-old signed a five-year contract extension for $255 million ($180 million guaranteed), $50 million per year, briefly making him the highest paid player in NFL history.
Many of the questions his teammates are asked naturally, are how the life-changing contract has impacted him as the Eagles prepare to be just the second team in nearly two decades to rebound from losing a Super Bowl and taking home the brass right.
Smith was not at a loss of words when asked the question.
“It’s amazing,” Smith said. “A guy that comes in everyday and puts the work in and you see it pay off. He leads the right way. A lot of people are looking up to him and following him. He’s part of the reason that guys enjoy coming to work.
“To see a guy like that, see what he does every day to make himself better. Maybe he’s doing something that you can probably do to make yourself better.”
All Pro center Jason Kelce was asked about Hurts’ record-breaking deal.
“Seems like the same guy to me,” Kelce said. “I haven’t noticed anything different. He’s still out here every day working out. Always trying to get better, even during a walk through in OTAs we’re talking through ‘why did we go to the Will and not push it to the Mike?’ Or do we want that formation?…all that stuff is still happening. It seems like he still has the hunger in him and the desire to improve and get better which is a necessity in this league."
Kelce stopped for a minute to put some humor to his answer.
“I have not noticed anything different…other than…actually nothing from him…probably just an aura of…I don’t know…commas…I guess.”
GRINDING AT NOVACARE
Smith said he hasn’t trained with Hurts this offseason before coming back to NovaCare.
He says he does his own thing training wise and has no plans to change.
Smith was asked if his routine changed much now that he is headed into his third season in the NFL?
“It really hasn’t changed; I feel l have gotten into a really good routine,” Smith said. “I know who I want to train with and where I want to train. I try to just stick to that.”
So what is the next step for the former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama?
“Just work on the mental side of the game,” Smith said. “Continue to get mentally sharp in my preparation, go out there so I can see things faster.”
Does that mean working on the playbook or recognition?
“Recognition of defenses, teams change every year,” Smith said. "A lot of coordinators change, things like that.. Teams and players you played before may not be running the same schemes."
Smith is coming into the 2023 season with a year under his belt with Brown and Quez Watkins.
“It’s helped a lot. Last year was kind of fast on us,” he said. “A.J. just getting here, you didn’t have that kind of full offseason together, to get to know each other, know each other. Now it’s way better. We’ve had more time on our hands, than going through the season. We can see how we react to things. I think it’s going good."
Smith was asked what he is working on specifically, route running or his release.
“This is your time to mess around and do things,” Smith answered. "You have times when you can try new things and times you can’t.
"This is definitely the time when anything you try, just go and do it now and get it out of the way. There may be something out there Nick don’t want me to do, I’m going to try it now. It’s the best time to try it.”
Is there much of a difference working with the new coordinator Brian Johnson?
“I feel like it’s the same,” Smith said. “Same guys around, same guys trying to get back to playing at the standard we were playing at last year. But just raising it. So I feel like it’s the same thing, same mentality, just doing it at a more efficient level.”
A professional athlete for three years now, Smith certainly knows the value of taking care of his meal ticket…his body. The two-time national champion was asked about what he’s learned about diet and sleep. He chose to keep his routine to himself.
“I feel like…whatever floats your boat,” Smith said. “If you are a guy that wants to eat healthy, eat healthy, if not, don’t. I eat what I eat, sleep how I sleep. Everybody’s body is different when it comes to sleep. Some guys can sleep a lot, and be energized. Some guys can get no sleep and be energized. It depends on your body.”
Is he still a Wawa guy? “Yeah for sure.”
TALKING ABOUT TEAMMATES
Smith was asked to evaluate his new teammate, wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who signed with the Eagles on April 19.
“Very explosive guy,” Smith said. “You see it when he catches passes. How he catches, he has the burst. We joked about it because every pass that he catches, he explodes out like he’s trying to get that YAC (yards after catch). You can tell with that ball in his hands, he’s going to be very special.
It is no secret this is a make-or-break offseason for Watkins. His speed is world class.
His catching ability and route running skills have not developed up to the level of his gifts.
Smith was asked about Watkins, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2020 out of Southern Mississippi.
"Quez has been working hard,” Smith said. “He understands the standard we have in the room. Not just with him, but with everybody. We all hold ourselves to a high standard. I have a lot of faith in Quez that he’s going to come in and do the things he’s supposed to do and is going to be a big part of this team.”
TOP TEN OR NOT TOP TEN RECEIVER IN THE LEAGUE
At what point does Smith think he can establish himself as a top-ten receiver in the NFL?
“I think as you go on and you continue to raise your level of play,” He said. “That comes into it and more understanding of the game. That’s just being confident in myself and my abilities. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have many guys that come up here and don’t think they’re not (Top 10). I’m just being confident in my abilities and raising my play.”
Does he think he’s there?
“I kind of always felt that way, to myself, humbly.”
How does he feel about the Eagles bringing in all the Georgia players the last two drafts?
“That’s fine, man” Smith said with a smile. “You bring in championship players to get to the championship, to win it all. If that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
CALL OF DUTY CRAZE
Walk into any NFL locker room and there is almost always a room set aside for relaxing. These players-only safe havens usually are filled with all kinds of game…video games and standards like ping pong and pop-a-shot. The newer game for players is called “Call of Duty.”
Its Wikipedia page gives this description:
“Call of Duty is a first-person shooter video game franchise published by Activision. Starting out in 2003, it first focused on games set in World War II. Over time, the series has seen games set in the midst of the Cold War, futuristic worlds, and the modern day.”
Brown brought up the game when he was asked if he and Smith hang out now that they’ve been teammates for over a year.
“Me and DeVonta talk like every day,” Brown said. “We’re texting or sending stuff from social media. He won’t play a game with me, he won’t play ‘Call of Duty’ with me for some reason,” Brown said. “I don’t think I’m good enough to play yet. Hopefully, we keep growing our relationship so we can run a couple of games.”
Well that quote must have travelled fast. Smith was ready when he asked why won’t he play “Call of Duty” with A.J. Brown?
“We actually played the other day,” Smith revealed. “We all have our own Call of Duty friends we play with, so when everybody gets on, most of the time we are already be on with other people..I was just staying on with my group of people. But we actually, we played the other day."
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
This is the definition of chemistry. These guys genuinely like each other. Check out Brian Baldinger’s column on page three (or on footballstories.com).
Baldy talks about how, after knowing each other for just two years, Pro Bowl guard Landon Dickerson asked line-mate Jordan Mailata to be his best man this offseason.
It is togetherness like this that will help the Birds fly to the rarified air of a Super Bowl win.
Email Al Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org