Eagles-Cardinals: Torrey Smith Hopes to Breakout
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — After proper reflection, Torrey Smith understands he's not going through the worst stretch of his career and ultimately, maybe that's the problem.
Smith hasn't been good during the first quarter of his inaugural season in Philadelphia, amassing just 10 receptions for 134 yards. And there's been more miscues, like drops and missed blocks, than contributions, which have tended to be of the intangible variety.
"I'm not panicking," a reasoned Smith said at his locker on Wednesday. "I'm not in the tank or anything. I'm just probably a little embarrassed by it, more so than anything, because it's not the start that I wanted. I let my teammates down. But, I mean, that was the first quarter [of the season]. We're starting the second quarter now, and I'm looking forward to getting on track."
The problem is that Smith was even worse in San Francisco last season and at some point, the question has to be asked if the veteran is really a starting-caliber NFL receiver any longer?
Many attributed his 49ers' struggles to what was going on with the team as a whole during Chip Kelly's disastrous 2016 season out west with below-average quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick. To date, however, Smith has looked like the same guy in a much better situation here in Philly.
Despite that, the Eagles remain hopeful.
"I've talked to Torrey," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "I have all the confidence in the world in him. Drops happen, things happen. I've missed throws -- the first couple weeks I was overthrowing him and then underthrowing him. So those things happen."
To be fair Smith's presence as a deep threat has been meaningful, often opening up space underneath for Zach Ertz, who is on pace for his best career season.
The Eagles were expecting far more than a decoy, though, from a guy who was once a 1,000-yard receiver in this league and had averaged nearly 17.0 yards-per-reception coming into this season.
"When I play the game the way I play," Smith said, "that's going to change our offense."
That's been the Smith mantra dating back over a year and in two different cities, though. Unless promise turns into production soon, the noise surrounding his performance is only going to get louder.
"It's not the first or last time that I'm going to fail to make a play," Smith admitted. "For me, I know who I am as a player. My teammates know who I am, and that probably means more to me than anything."
With Arizona on the docket, the presumption is that All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson will be used to shadow Alshon Jeffery but there's also the Bill Belichick school of thought that could put Peterson on the second receiver, in this case, Smith, to completely take him out of the game and then use rolled coverage to deal with the other side of the field.
The struggling Smith has to hope the former is the plan for Arizona.
"When you play enough and you get enough balls thrown to you – [whether] you line up at guard or tackle or throw enough passes -- you're going to have your miscues," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said when discussing Smith. "Sometimes they come in bunches. In the immediate term, we've got a lot of confidence in Torrey. He's been around a long time and has made a lot of plays."
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 23, Cardinals 17 (2017 prediction record: 3-1, vs. spread 2-2)
For the second straight practice day, the Eagles were without defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and running back Wendell Sammwood (knee) as they continued preparation for Arizona on Sunday.
An NFL source told 973espn.com last week that Cox would likely miss a couple of weeks with his injury so that part of the equation is no surprise but Smallwood, who has taken on a far bigger role since Darren Sproles' season-ending ACL tear, would leave Doug Pederson without a key part of his running back rotation if unable to recover.
Generally, players who don't practice by Friday will be ruled out for the upcoming game.
There was some good news on the injury front Thursday as well. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan returned after missing Wednesday's session with a heel contusion while fellow interior lineman Destiny Vaeao also was on the field for a second straight say after missing the prior three games with a wrist injury.
In the secondary, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins, who both have been out with hamstring issues practiced again on Thursday and look in line to return Sunday against the Cards.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen