August 4, 2023   4 MIN READ

Off The Edge

Birds Take New View Of Nolan Smith


Rookie edge defender Nolan Smith has been spotted recently taking some reps at an unfamiliar spot.

The lightning-quick pass rusher took some reps as an off-ball linebacker recently at Eagles training camp, raising questions about his usage for the upcoming season.

New defensive coordinator Sean Desai didn’t exactly throw a log onto the fire when asked if Smith could align as a stacked linebacker, but he also didn’t dismiss the idea.

Nolan Smith

GETTY IMAGES: Rookie edge defender Nolan Smith has taken some reps at off-ball linebacker.

“We’re just trying to get guys reps at different spots,” Desai said Friday in his pre-practice press conference. “So in certain periods, like 7-on-7, where we can get some of these [players] some work in coverage, we can do that and try to strategically put him in some different spots to keep it same-as for them. It’s just trying to keep testing out different combinations of guys in different spot.”

With second-year linebacker Nakobe Dean (groin) sidelined Wednesday, the Eagles capitalized on the opportunity to take a closer look at Smith in an off-ball position.

The 238-pound Smith played mostly on the edge at Georgia, where he helped the Bulldogs win consecutive national titles, but some scouting sources viewed his size (6-foot-2), freakish athleticism and range as potentially a better fit as an inside linebacker, which is another reason Smith fell to 30th overall despite his elite testing.

Smith clocked a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split to go along with a 41 1/2-inch vertical, making him one of the 2023 draft’s most tantalizing athletic prospects.

He was also a solid run defender in college, further fueling the concept that he was more built to play inside linebacker at the pro level than edge defender.

The Eagles have mostly used Smith on the edges in camp, but the team is also extremely deep at edge rusher, with Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham – each of whom have made the Pro Bowl – entrenched in their roles, along with 2016 first-round pick Derek Barnett coming back from knee surgery that cost him the 2022 season.

Desai cautioned about reading too much into usage and groupings this early into camp. Wednesday’s session marked the first time since camp opened July 25 that the Eagles practiced on consecutive days.

Desai, in his first season as Eagles defensive coordinator, said the coaches are still in the “formative evaluation phase” and noted that other players have also aligned at multiple positions.

Second-year edge rusher Kyron Johnson, a Day 3 pick from last year, has also seen snaps at off-ball linebacker. Second-year corner Mario Goodrich is seeing snaps at nickel linebacker despite his pedigree as an outside corner.

“We don’t know until we stack reps for it,” Desai said. “[Smith] might have had – what? – two or three reps at it the other day or something like that? We’ll be able to keep testing that out. It’s early.”

It could be argued that using Smith as an off-ball linebacker would be a waste of his supernatural edge speed, which has already caused problems for teammates in 1-on-1s and team drills.

But it can also be rationalized that lining up Smith off the ball, in the same personnel grouping with Reddick and Sweat, would give Desai another potential pass rusher or “Joker” weapon who can move around and blitz from any spot.

Desai noted that his defense is “built to leverage peoples’ talents.”

“The faster we grow in it, the faster everybody is going to be able to figure out where they can take go take their shots and leverage their talents.”

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for

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