PHILADELPHIA – It hit Marcus Smith the same way it does all rookies. No matter how much they prepare, or how high they were drafted, there's still that instant bit of shock in that first game.
"When I first got out there it was like, 'This is it, I'm in the NFL. Wow," the Philadelphia Eagles' top choice said. "You're playing your first NFL game it takes a while for it to all set in. Then, as the game went along, I got into the flow more, and it's just playing football again."
Smith, from Louisville and the 26th overall pick in last May's draft, is being eased into action in Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis' 3-4 defense.
The rookie has taken snaps in practice at both outside linebacker positions, backing up veteran starters Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
Smith played over 40 snaps in the Eagles' preseason opener Friday night in Chicago. He was mostly on the left side, where Davis employs the "Jack" linebacker, and spent some time on the right side, where he rushed the quarterback.
"I'm getting there," Smith said after Monday's walk-through before leaving for a three-day joint practice with the New England Patriots. "I feel I'm learning something every day and getting better every day. By the time that first game rolls around, I'll be ready to go."
Despite the fact that he finished second in the nation in sacks last year with 14 1/2, the rookie looked better against the run. He also did well in coverage, where he knocked away one pass and made a great play to tackle wide receiver Josh Morgan for a loss, only to be negated by a penalty on the other side of the field.
In a dozen or so pass rushes, he had one hurry.
"It's very fair to say that," Davis said of Smith being better in coverage and against the run. "I think you saw his athleticism. Again, those guys are thinking a lot. The very first preseason game is always their hardest. They have the most nerves. They have the 'wow' factor. They're in the NFL.
"That settles after a couple plays, couple quarters. Now you typically see the second third and fourth preseason game with young guys, you see big growth because the nervous part, the, 'Oh, my God, that's Jay Cutler over there,' whoever it is, is kind of gone."
This week, Smith gets to see Tom Brady and the Patriots.
"Everybody knows they're a good team," Smith said. "And Tom Brady, he's a God, especially up there. I'm not going to mess with him. I just want to get close, get some pass rush, let him know I can play."
"But Tom Brady is a guy I grew up watching and idolizing a little bit, because remember I was a quarterback in high school. So, he was one of those guys I always watched," he said.
Smith's reps will increase this week, as Davis tries to get more and more acclimated into a system that he is picking up fairly well for a rookie.
"We'll get some guys in a little more Friday night, but we're also going to try to do it in practice against New England, so we can see our twos or threes against their ones," Davis said. "It's easier to do it there than in the games."
"The hard part about the games you don't know how many more reps are left. How many three-and-outs are going to happen?" he said. "So against New England in practice, we'll definitely be moving the roster around for evaluation purposes."