PHILADELPHIA – It had been two decades since the Eagles drafted a player from Alabama, then they went out and took two in a row this past spring, receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson.
So far, very early in their pro career, the reviews have been mixed.
Dickerson made his first NFL start in Dallas, a week after relieving injured Brandon Brooks at right guard for the final 33 snaps of a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
With the OL banged up yet, Dickerson will be out there again on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) visit the 1-2 Eagles. Whether or not he will back at right guard or move over to left guard isn’t being revealed by head coach Nick Sirianni, who wants to keep the guessing game in play for competitive advantage purposes.
As for Dickerson, he seems to be the type who is never happy with how he plays.
“I like to look at it in a way of you’re never going to play a perfect game,” he said on Thursday. “There’s always things you can work on so there’s no reason to sit around and pat yourself on the back if there are still things you can improve on.
“I don’t really find a reason why you should do that. Other people may be different. For me, I find it best whenever I’m hard on myself, critique myself, ask for feedback from coaches and try to get things corrected.”
Smith burst onto the scene in Week 1, with his first NFL catch being an 18-yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. He went on to make four straight receptions during the course of that 32-6 win and ended that day with six receptions on eight targets for 71 yards.
Since then, he's had five receptions for 44 yards on a total of 14 targets.
Smith needs to be a bigger part of an offense that has scored just three touchdowns in their two-game losing streak, and Sirianni knows that, saying on Wednesday the trick now will be trying to find some easy touches for Smith and QB Jalen Hurts to get them in rhythm, sort of like they did in the opener.
“That's kind of like what you do with a quarterback, too, or a foul shooter or a good shooter,” said the coach. “You've got to see the ball go through the hoop a couple times. So, just get him a couple easy touches here and there. I know we got the one; we threw a screen to him, we had a guy downfield, so that was what we were trying to do on that play.
“Just got to get him a couple easy touches. He's a confident guy, so it's not to get his confidence back but just to get him in a groove.”
Smith isn’t lacking for confidence despite the frustration of the last two weeks, which included him falling down on a pattern against the Cowboys that led to a 59-yard interception return by his former Alabama teammate, Trevon Diggs.
“I have to do a better job of running my routes and staying up,” said Smith on Thursday as the 1-2 Eagles prepare to host the 1-2 Kansas City Chiefs.
“Right when it happened, I stood up and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s my fault.’ I have to stay up. We were just working on that. Working on me running the top of my out routes and things like that. Just trying to find the small details to fix that up.”
It was the sort of stumble that seemed out of character for a player known as a precise route runner when he won the Heisman Trophy last year.
Smith said, though, he is not feeling any frustration.
After last year with the Crimson Tide, he already had 27 catches for 316 yards after three games compared to 11 for 115 so far this season.
“Just make the most of my opportunities,” said Smith. “As an offense, we have to execute better. That’s the main thing. Not putting ourselves in bad situations. If we do that, then the ball is going to find who it’s supposed to find.
“You have to do your job. The opportunities that you get, you have to make the most of them. Just when the ball comes to me, I have to make the most of the opportunity.”
First-round draft picks in this city have notoriously struggled in Philadelphia in recent years, before some of them found success, from Nelson Agholor in 2015 followed by Carson Wentz, Derek Barnett, Andre Dillard, Jalen Reagor, and now Smith.
“I think pressure’s great,” said Dickerson when asked how Smith is handling that part of his game. “It means you have expectations. It means people want things from you, they expect certain things to happen. I think that’s great.
“You keep on getting better, not only for the city, but for the team, and what we can accomplish. I think he handles it great. He evaluates what he does good and bad what he does each week. He’s trying to fix it, he’s trying to improve and get better every single day.”
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 or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.