Philadelphia Eagles

What Carter and Smith showed Eagles this spring

It was just OTAs but Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith showed the Eagles something this spring

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You can’t learn a ton about rookie defensive linemen in the spring.

But you can learn a little bit.

And the Eagles’ two first-round picks from Georgia, Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, showed enough at OTAs to make everyone really excited for training camp in a month and a half.

“I think you just see their athletic ability and the drill work,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said on Thursday. “We're doing a lot of 7-on-7, not team drills, but they're getting a lot of individual work. So, you're seeing the things that we saw, obviously, on tape of what they do well and the power, their athletic ability, their personalities.”

Teams are permitted to do 11-on-11 drills during OTAs but the Eagles kept it to 7-on-7s, which means the only glimpses of Carter and Smith on the field came during position and individual drills. That’s OK. There will be plenty of time to see them this summer, especially once the pads go on.

There are some things to take away from the spring, though. And just seeing Carter and Smith in person goes a long way. There was never any denying Carter’s stature but the rookie defensive tackle certainly looks the part. And as much talk as there was about Smith’s being undersized, he doesn’t look out of place next to other NFL edge rushers on the team. That’s a positive.

Both Carter and Smith are impressive physical specimens and that showed up even in six short OTA sessions this spring.

“You're seeing that every day in drills, so it's not the same type of measuring stick that you get from maybe a skill guy who is getting some team periods with the 7-on-7,” Sirianni said, “but you're seeing the development in the skill and you're seeing their skill in the individual periods with Coach (Tracy) Rocker and Coach [Jeremiah Washburn].”

The Eagles will be relying on both of their first-round rookies from Georgia in 2023, but to varying degrees.

It seems very likely that Carter, the No. 9 overall pick, will be a starter on the defensive line. With the departure of Javon Hargrave in free agency, there’s a starting spot open and Carter will likely fill it ahead of veteran Milton Williams, who will still be in the rotation. 

Carter was thought by many to be one of the best — if not the best — overall players in this class. He has the second-shortest odds to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, according to PointsBet. Carter is +550 to win the award, behind just Will Anderson at +350.

Smith will play as a rookie but he won’t be a starter. The Eagles have a loaded group of edge rushers as they bring back Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham from the 2022 season. But Smith should be the fourth guy in that rotation and will get a chance to rush the passer. Smith is at +2200 to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. And if he gets to be on the field in pass rushing situations, he can show off his athleticism.

Like we said, the true test won’t come until training camp. The Eagles won’t report until late July and they won’t be in full pads until a few days after that.

This is the longest break in the NFL calendar and it’s up to each individual player to come back to training camp ready for what the Eagles hope is a very long season. Carter and Smith should be used to that after winning back-to-back National Championships in college.

And their professionalism is already impressing their new teammates.

“They’re great,” Sweat said about Carter and Smith this spring. “The work ethic is pretty crazy for both of them. They’re already working. Shoot, they’re professionals, man. It’s actually surprising coming out of college. But I mean, they’re working, they’re just here to learn and they’re making improvement quickly.”

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