PHILADELPHIA – It starts with his routine.
It’s always been that way for DeVonta Smith.
It worked in high school, where he was nearly a 4.0 student and had to overcome a broken clavicle as a sophomore on the football field. His routine allowed him to overcome that obstacle and escape the tiny town of Amite, La., landing a scholarship to the University of Alabama.
It worked in Tuscaloosa when he eventually won the Heisman Trophy and a bevy of other awards playing for Nick Saban.
And it’s working now, in his rookie season with the Eagles.
“You see Smitty and how he conducts himself every day,” said Eagles LT Jordan Mailata. “He’s so talented, and he’s so professional about his routine. The guy has a routine every day. When you see that, especially as his teammate, you respect that even more.
“It kind of makes you want to do the same thing. It’s a very infectious culture that we’re trying to create. For his first year in the league, it’s incredible what he’s doing now.”
Smith, of course, shrugs off the routine, just as he seemingly and easily shrugged off two games where he combined for three drops to have one of his best games of the season in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
He made five catches for 116 yards and a 28-yard touchdown that required him to beat a defender to the corner of the end zone after making the catch at the 7-yard line.
“You just have to do something you’re comfortable with and know what you have to work on,” said Smith on Thursday. “That’s what I did. There are things I have to work on. It starts early, so I get in here earlier so I can get more time. Whenever you find something you’re comfortable with you stick with it.”
Smith didn’t dive into what his routine looks like, but Mailata peeled back the curtain ever so slightly.
“He comes here before some of the trainers in the morning,” said the LT. “I see him at his locker with his iPad, the extra stuff that he does (in the weight room).”
Halfway through his rookie season, Smith isn’t where he wants to be. Not yet, anyway.
“I feel I left a lot out there, a lot of plays I wish I could have back, but ultimately from a learning standpoint, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and just about the game of football in general,” he said.
“There are some things that I didn’t necessarily know, the rules are different. I feel like it was all right. Things I left out there but ultimately, I’m learning a lot.”
The NFL landscape is dotted with former Alabama players, and Smith will see yet another on Sunday when the Eagles travel to Denver to play the Broncos (4:25 CBS).
One will be across from him, rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain, provided he is healthy, the other is second-year WR Jerry Jeudy.
Smith knows them each well.
Jeudy had 52 catches for 856 yards with three TDs as a rookie. This year, he has played just three games but has 16 receptions for 180 yards.
Meanwhile, Smith is threatening to break DeSean Jackson’s rookie record for receiving yards, set 13 years ago when Jackson made 62 catches for 912 yards and two touchdowns.
With eight games left, Smith has 38 receptions for 537 yards with two scores, bursting on the scene with an 18-yard TD catch that was his first NFL catch in the season opener against the Falcons, becoming the first Eagle to do that since the immortal Marvin Hargrove did it in 1990. Hargrove played just six more NFL games and that was his only TD catch.
Smith is no doubt more talented than Hargrove, and the odds are his routine is better, too.
“You just have to do something you’re comfortable with and know what you have to work on,” said the rookie WR. “That’s what I did. There are things I have to work on. It starts early, so I get in here earlier so I can get more time. Whenever you find something you’re comfortable with you stick with it.”
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.