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What you immediately notice with DeVonta Smith is that he’s really fast. Then you notice that he catches everything.
Those things were on full display when he was healthy in training camp and again on Sunday in Atlanta, when he caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut.
With this rookie 1st-round pick, his skill set goes way beyond just being another fast wide receiver.
There’s an inner game when it comes to Smith, and that’s what's getting his coaches really excited.
Turns out this skinny young speed demon can block.
You couldn’t really get a sense of it in training camp, since the Eagles never went live. And you couldn’t really get a sense of it in the preseason games, because Smith played so little.
Sunday in Atlanta, another dimension of Smith’s game was on full display.
“I thought he did a phenomenal job,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “He's really a tough football player and the way he gets in position to make those blocks and create space for the backs to run was impressive. Coach [Aaron] Moorehead, our receivers coach, he works with him on that every day in practice. Then you can see it showed up in the game.”
Smith is a wiry 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, but blocking isn’t just brute strength. It’s want-to, it’s positioning, it’s toughness and it’s recognition, and Smith passes on all accounts.
“He has great technique and great fundamentals,” Steichen said. “(With) his frame, just to get in position to make plays, he's doing a nice job.”
For this offense to work, the receivers and backs have to be able to block. Because when so many plays are short passes designed to turn into big gains, there are going to be a lot of defenders in the area of the receiver, and the only way to create space for whoever has the ball is for the other skill guys to block their guy.
The Eagles netted 434 yards and scored 32 points in Atlanta in Nick Sirianni's first game as an NFL head coach, and that doesn't happen if everybody isn't doing the little things.
“There's so much that goes into each and every single play,” Sirianni said. “Like, ‘Hey, who's going to get this block on this if it does spring out like we think it's going to?’”
Sirianni on Monday brought up Smith’s blocking on his own, without being asked.
“DeVonta stuck out to me how he blocked,” Sirianni said. “And, you know, he's tough, he's scrappy. And he'll get after you, and he'll get you covered up.”
Smith takes pride in being an all-around football player, not just a pass catcher, and he’s got a high football IQ that really gives him a broad understanding of the game.
We’ve all seen diva wide receivers who just want the football and don’t really care about anything else. For a 22-year-old kid, Smith has shown remarkable maturity. He’s more concerned with doing whatever it takes to win than piling up stats, and that’s rare for a star 1st-round pick wide out.
“It's impressive, really impressive,” Steichen said. “Even when he came in, the way he just talked football, saw football, talked about coverages, was really impressive.
"For him to see certain things on the field, just talking to him on the sidelines about certain things, there's guys that have played in this league for a long time (that can’t do that).
“He sees the field really well. Impressed with his football knowledge (and) where he's at.”
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