June 1, 2024   5 MIN READ

Steady Climb

Expectations Higher For Second-Year EDGE


PHILADELPHIA — As third-year Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis wrapped his post-OTA presser and exited stage left on Thursday, he was met at the foot of the corridor by a beaming Nolan Smith, his defensive colleague and former University of Georgia teammate.

“I can’t climb if my brother is falling,” Smith echoed after Davis before making his way to the NovaCare Complex podium.

Smith, an emerging leader on a youth-infused roster, would recite that same mantra minutes later –  as well as in closing – during his media availability, illustrating a sense of unity and connection, the latter being of head coach Nick Sirianni’s five core values.

Smith’s mostly listless rookie campaign – a stark contrast to his typically upbeat, energetic demeanor –  places him squarely under the microscope heading into a critical second season.

The 23-year-old’s self-awareness in his assessment of his rookie season was glaring.

“You know, it’s a learning curve,” he said. “A lot of people think you’re supposed to come in the league and dominate and do all of this and that. And I got the same dreams and hopes that everybody had for me.

“I wanna have 10-plus sacks and do all of that, but realistically, it’s a learning curve. These guys have been in here 15 years, these guys have been in here a long time.”

Nolan Smith

GETTY IMAGES: Expectations for second-year edge Nolan Smith, a first-round pick, are high in 2024.

When the Eagles selected Smith with the No. 30 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, they garnered universal praise.

The thinking went that the explosive, twitched-up former Bulldog pass-rusher would carve out a fairly prominent role as a rookie, complementing starters Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat while providing a different dimension as an uber-athletic fastball off the edge.

As it turned out, Smith’s role was reduced to a cameo. He contributed 22 tackles, three quarterback hits and a sack over only 204 snaps.

His minimal snap share was curious, considering Reddick and Sweat each eclipsed 800 snaps and both appeared gassed down the stretch.

Instead, Smith’s most measurable impact came via special teams, where the first-rounder was heralded as a core member, accounting for 55 percent of the snaps.

But after more than four months since closing the book on his first season, a clear-eyed sophomore could understand his most challenging adjustment.

“It was the speed of the game,” Smith said. “Looking at too much, seeing too much, not seeing enough. I just remember what [Brandon Graham] told me – ‘You see a little, you see a lot. You see too much, you don’t see nothing.’

“So, that’s one thing that I’m gonna just try to hone in on this year, just focus on my keys, my line, my get-off. Just being on my stuff, being on my two-by-two and just focus on things that I can control.”

Donning a team-issued sleeveless shirt, Smith appeared bulkier following an offseason of training solo in the California mountains, isolated with his thoughts and fully dialed into self-improvement.

He noted that while his weight last season hovered around 238 pounds, he plans on coming into Year 2 at 245, adding that defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Jeremiah Washburn signed off, provided the extra mass doesn’t hinder his speed.

Most importantly, it appears all systems go with regards to Smith’s seemingly mercurial shoulder, saying, “It’s amazing. It’s ready to go. I can’t wait to use it.”

That Smith managed to add to his frame suggests there were no offseason limitations, which should also quell concerns.

Smith was also quick to praise Lane Johnson in aiding his progression, revealing that the veteran All-Pro right tackle imparted wisdom as far as tells and tendencies to look for in an offensive tackle and even footwork, specifically in spacing out his toes to support the knees and Achilles.

Nolan Smith

ITB PHOTO: Second-year pass rusher Nolan Smith said his shoulder is in good shape and he’ll add some weight for 2024.

To avoid reverting back to muscle memory and scrunching up his toes, Smith said he implemented toe spacers, adding that the toes should be able to wiggle freely, much like the fingers.

Whether these offseason alterations coaxes max production from Smith remains to be seen, though the second-year pass-rusher deserves the benefit of the doubt of translating it onto the field.

Smith is healthy, wiser, coming off his first NFL offseason, and should benefit learning under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a stabilizing veteran defensive mind who hopes to get the most out of him via an old school, impassioned approach.

For those wondering how a young centerpiece like Smith will take to tough coaching, they can rest assured that Smith is well-versed on the subject coming from Georgia, where expectation and demands are perpetually elevated.

At the pro level, it was Washburn who challenged Smith to test his limits day in, day out.

A wild card in the pass-rush equation, Smith will be expected to contribute if the Eagles defense is going to meet expectations and complement its high-octane offense.

Smith joins holdovers Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham, along with free-agent addition Bryce Huff, to comprise the team’s modified pass-rush.

Sure, each of the aforementioned carry question marks for various reasons, and the group is largely projection-based, but Smith arguably possesses the best upside of the bunch from a traits perspective. He’ll be the one to highlight.

If everything aligns according to forecast, it’s plausible for Smith to become the Eagles’ breakout player.

“I’m just learning,” Smith said. “I’m taking the same attitude and approach I did last year, trying to help the team any way I can. Still be that juice, that energy guy. Always picking people up.

“And really, I can’t climb if my brother falls, like [Jordan Davis] said. So, I’m here just to learn, fly around, and I feel like this is that year I turn the corner. Just watching the game and just studying.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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1 Comment

  • Grace DiCecco

    Sounds like he has learned a lot from some of the best. Hope Nolan can stay healthy and put it all together this season!