PHILADELPHIA – The weight concern was always an issue when it came time to evaluating DeVonta Smith in the days leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, and now the Eagles’ first-round pick has a sprained knee that, on Monday, the team designated a week-to-week injury.
The Eagles’ coaching staff doesn't seem overly concerned.
They believe that he is so far advanced in his ability to run routes that hitting the pause button this early in camp won’t be a big setback for the Heisman Trophy winner.
“The thing about DeVonta, his releases off the line of scrimmage for a young player are super impressive,” said offensive coordinator Shane Steichen prior to the start of Monday’s practice. “Like, it's rare to see the way he gets off the line of scrimmage. His first step and his jab to create that separation, I mean, that's the biggest thing I've seen from him, along with his speed and his route running ability. It’s been very impressive.”
How quickly Smith can bounce back will certainly bear watching.
He played at 166 pounds in the rugged SEC for Alabama and never suffered any serious injury, but the NFL is a different game with the increase in speed, size, and talent.
For now, the Eagles’ will need to adjust without him and hope he will be able to return for the preseason opener on Aug. 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, if not sooner.
Smith suffered his injury during the fourth practice of training camp, on Saturday. Early in the first team drill, he bent at the waist to try to secure an underthrown pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
As he bent down awkwardly to try to pick the ball off his shoelaces, he was hit from behind and had to be helped to his feet.
Smith left the field with trainers but returned several minutes later, though without his helmet. He watched the rest of practice from the sideline.
“Smitty’s a pretty smart guy,” said Hurts. “I think it’s always valuable to have someone practicing, and on the grass, and get those reps in and all that. But in due time, he’ll be back. We’ll continue to get better in other aspects as much as we can. We’ll never stop growing and never stop attacking.”
The Eagles are losing Smith just as they got last year's first-round pick, wide receiver Jalen Reagor, back into the lineup.
Reagor returned to team drills on Saturday night. Reagor struggled to start camp with what the Eagles listed as lower body tightness, but Reagor is also struggling to recover from the murder of a close friend.
He has not talked to the media, yet.
“I think with Jalen, I told him I’m there for him in any way, shape or form,” said Hurts. “And I know all those things are tough to deal with. But I’m there for him, anything I can do, I’ll be there. At the end of the day, we all have a great opportunity, and he has a great opportunity to do something really special this year. I know he’s hungry.”
Like Smith, Reagor also suffered an injury in training camp last year.
A shoulder injury cost him several days of practice, but Reagor was able to return for the season opener before tearing ligaments in his thumb that kept him out five games after needing surgery on it.
Reagor never seemed to find a groove and had a disappointing rookie year.
The Eagles have to hope that Smith doesn't follow a similar path.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.