SEATTLE — The Philadelphia Eagles’ past and present defensive ends will be on opposite sidelines at CenturyLink Field during Sunday’s game against Seattle.
Derek Barnett, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick this year, entered the game hoping to continue his solid rookie season by sacking Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Marcus Smith, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2014, was looking for a little redemption after getting cut by the team last summer to make room for Barnett.
“I don’t have any anger toward (the Eagles) at all,” Smith told the Seattle Times earlier this season. “But when we do play them, we’ve got to go get that W. That’s what we’ve got to go do.”
Smith struggled with the Eagles.
Then-coach Chip Kelly drafted him with the 26th overall pick to play outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the 6-foot-3, 258-pounder never seemed to fit. That was also the case when coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived last season and moved him to defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.
Smith played in just 37 games in his three seasons in Philadelphia and got only four sacks.
The Eagles appeared ready to move on when they drafted Barnett 14th overall this year and signed veteran free agent Chris Long to pair with holdovers Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
Smith skipped the team’s voluntary offseason workouts and was released in July.
“I wasn’t surprised that they waived me,” Smith said. “I kind of had an idea that it would happen. It was just about what I was going to do next and what team would suit me best.”
The Seahawks were the answer.
Signing with Seattle, Smith was reunited with Seahawks defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who had been his position coach at the University of Louisville.
“In Philly, Marcus did a lot of different things,” Hurtt told the Seattle Times. “Here, he’s only got to worry about playing one position. It simplifies some things. He’s a smart guy, but it’s hard to play fast when you’ve got to know a lot of stuff.”
Smith has had modest success with the Seahawks.
He entered Sunday’s game with 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks in nine games. Last week against San Francisco, he made three tackles and had a sack.
“I know I didn’t have a great start to my career,” Smith said. “But I knew that coming here I could eventually revamp it and get back to where I want to be.”
Barnett is off to a much better start.
The 6-3, 259-pounder entered Sunday’s game with 4.5 sacks, ranking third on the team behind defensive end Brandon Graham (seven) and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (5.5). His 25 quarterback pressures/hurries are second-most behind Cox’s 27.
“I think the thing that’s impressed me more about Derek is he’s been good in the run game,” Schwartz said last week. “He’s known as a pass rusher, but he’s been very consistent in the run game.”
The Eagles drafted Barnett primarily because of his pass-rushing ability. The 21-year-old had 33 career sacks at the University of Tennessee, breaking the school record set by the late Reggie White (32).
It took a while for Barnett to become a factor for the Eagles, however.
He didn’t record his first sack of the season until the sixth game, at Carolina. But he’s since had a pair of two-sack games, against Washington on Oct. 23 and at Dallas on Nov. 19.
“I’m not running by people like I did in college,” Barnett told the team’s website after the Cowboys game. “I’m doing different things. That’s what I had to learn early on. The more things you do, the more they have to respect you.”
Barnett picked up pointers from Graham, Curry and Long.
He learned the importance of being versatile, of developing a variety of moves to get past strong, agile NFL offensive tackles.
“We talk every day,” Graham said last week. “He was feeling a little frustrated earlier in the season, but I kept telling him that sacks come in bunches. I knew it would happen for him eventually because of how hard he works. He’s relentless every time he’s out there.”