DeVonta Debut: Top Pick Smith Plays First Half Vs. Pats
PHILADELPHIA – Ninety minutes before kickoff, there was an unmistakable energy swirling around Lincoln Financial Field.
Thursday night was to be the long-awaited debut of the Eagles’ newly formed quarterback-receiver tandem of Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith, against the New England Patriots at the Linc in the second preseason game for both teams.
However, the unveiling was unexpectedly put on hold once Hurts complained of abdominal pain following pre-game warmups and was sent to the hospital to be evaluated. The Eagles quarterback is fine now, according to head coach Nick Sirianni.
With Hurts on the mend, veteran Joe Flacco got the nod, navigating an offense in the first half that yielded a paltry 106 yards on 28 plays.
As for Smith, the rookie made his pro debut and played sparingly, reeling in two receptions for 19 yards on four of Flacco’s 17 pass attempts.
“It felt good just to get out there and get back in a groove with my routine before the game and stuff like that,” Smith said after the 35-0 loss. “Just to get back out there and get back to myself.”
Flacco and Smith couldn’t connect early, as the quarterback threw slightly late over the middle on his first target to Smith for an incomplete pass that bounced off the receiver’s hands. Later, their off timing on a back-shoulder throw deep down the right sideline led to another incompletion off Smith’s hands.
But the 22-year-old wideout showed no ill effects of a sprained MCL that sidelined him for much of training camp, showcasing route-running savvy and explosive burst off the ball in limited action.
Patriots corners weren’t able to get their hands on the Heisman winner from Alabama, who displayed smooth releases.
“Obviously, we would have liked to do a little better of a job, but at the same time I wouldn’t say it was anything crazy or pressing,” Flacco said. “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.”
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Smith “looked like he was a little antsy at first,” noting the incompletions earlier in the game but also praised the rookie’s route running.
“Dropped a couple balls, and he was a little late with his eyes on the deep ball that Joe threw him. He made a couple plays there,” Sirianni added. “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. 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.
While circumstances weren’t ideal, Smith logged valuable playing time with the regular-season merely weeks away. Smith will be expected to lead a revitalized aerial attack and serve as a primary passing option for Hurts.
The 6-foot, 174-pound wideout has the ability to impact all three levels of the field and should thrive on short-to-intermediate routes, where his short-area quickness and dynamic traits can be best exploited and provide a distinct dimension.
With the season opener rapidly approaching, the former Alabama teammates will have a few weeks to rekindle their innate chemistry.
“I felt good,” Smith said. “I kept attacking and rehabbing. Right now, I am feeling good.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.