While Thursday was a night to forget for the Philadelphia Eagles, there were definitely some positives to take away. The Patriots may have steamrolled their way through Sirianni’s soldiers, but fans were treated to a strong debut from rookie receiver DeVonta Smith. The box score might not reflect it, but the tape told us everything we need to know.
It’s worth noting that prior to his preseason debut, Smith had missed an fortnight of practice due to a minor injury. This meant that Thursday night was not only the first team-rep he’d taken since suffering a sprained knee, but it was also his first live-game rep. He didn’t get the full luxury of joint practices with the Patriots, so there was bound to be some kind of jaggedness to get things rolling.
Targeted four times on the night, Smith caught two passes for a total of 19 yards, but context is key. When going back and watching Smith’s outing a second time, it was clear to see just how much potential he has.
He separated with ease at the line of scrimmage and his breaks were as crisp as they ever had been. The first target of the night came on a simple in-route over the middle that saw Smith sprint up to the toes of the DB before swiftly gliding across his face and creating a huge throwing window. Unfortunately, Smith had to slow up to adjust for Flacco, who threw the ball slightly behind his wideout, allowing the corner to catch up and make a play on the ball.
The second throw was a deep shot down the sideline, with Smith turning around a little too late for what was again a poorly placed ball. A couple of plays later, Flacco threw yet another ball behind the Heisman-winning wideout, who again was able to create a ton of separation.
By this point, just one reception would be enough to make sure that there aren’t any confidence concerns and that he can get into a groove. It was something the Alabama product himself acknowledged after the game:
“Yeah, that is kind of how it is when you have a rough time catching the ball. Once you get that first one, then it’s like ‘I got it now’. Just getting back into it.”
Smith caught a nine-yard pass for the team’s first third down conversion of the entire preseason, stopping in his tracks upon making the catch, and driving in and upfield past a couple of defenders, showing his ability after the catch. He ended the night with a similar reception for a further 10-yards.
When asked about the debut of DeVonta Smith, Nick Sirianni was open and honest:
“Yeah, you know, looked like he was a little antsy at first. Dropped a couple balls, and he was a little late with his eyes on the deep ball that [QB] Joe [Flacco] threw him. He made a couple plays there. That’s what happens with young wideouts. They have to play and go through the ups and downs a little bit, and the preseason is for that to happen. He ran a good route on that return route on a third down. Thought he ran a couple other good routes, too. Again, we will look at the tape to see totally how he played, but I’m glad he got in there and was able to play a good, meaningful first half and take a couple hits and have to go against some of those tight coverage looks he had to get.”
Joe Flacco would also mention the importance of Smith getting some valuable preseason reps:
It was good to see him get out there and run some routes against some press-coverage. Some physicality out there. So that’s always good to get him in there and get us some action anyway.
Smith may not have had the dream preseason debut where he sprinted off to the endzone and scored a heroic touchdown, but all things considered, he was the brightest star in an otherwise pitch-black sky, showcasing every trait that made him worthy of being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the tenth overall pick.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire