Eagles Rookie Brings Reputation as ‘Physical, Trash-Talking’ CB

Prince Smith

Getty Philly native Prince Smith Jr. is looking to earn a roster spot on the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent.

When John Lyons talks about Prince Smith Jr., you can almost see his eyes light up over the phone. He still hears him chirping in his ear.

Lyons was Smith’s defensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire where he was a four-year starter at cornerback. During that time, Smith never saw a playbook he couldn’t memorize or a wide receiver he couldn’t keep up with. And Smith was never afraid to talk a little trash in the process.

“I did have to speak to him about limiting some of the talking on the field,” Lyons said, half in jest. “I told him: just go cover him or the guy is going to run by you. I asked him, ‘Can he run by you?’ And his answer was always no. He’s a little quiet until he gets to know you. And he’s really confident in his own abilities.”

Smith, an undrafted rookie free agent, will be vying for a spot in the Eagles’ secondary if and when training camp opens in July. It’s going to be a crowded field, especially after the addition of free agent Nickell Robey-Coleman and the return of Cre’Von LeBlanc. Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox are expected to start, with Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas mixing in.

Still, the unit was a perceived weakness in 2019 and continues to be an area of improvement. Smith has always thrived on intense competition, per Lyons, and the chance to steal a roster spot from a proven veteran should only increase that burning desire. Blame that on his proud Philly upbringing. Smith attended Imhotep Charter High School in the tough West Oak Lane neighborhood.

“He’s very proud of being from Philadelphia. He played like I would expect a kid from Philly to play,” Lyons said. “He had a swagger to him. He had confidence. One thing is he’s really competitive and not only on the field but off it. He wanted to beat you in everything he did.”

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Rookie Already Picking Up Eagles’ Playbook

Lyons confided Smith was one of the smartest players that he’s ever coached, a career spanning a decade at New Hampshire and a legendary stint at Dartmouth.

“The kid is smart. He understands football,” Lyons said. “He has a very good understanding and feel for the game. You know, the cornerback position is easy to learn … but it’s hard to do. He picked it up right away.”

Smith earned a starting spot as a true freshman before being named Defensive Rookie of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). He finished with three interceptions last season and two picks in 2018.

Lyons said he had to tell Smith to remain quiet sometimes during team meetings. Not because he was talking out of turn or causing a distraction. No, Smith just knew the defense better than everyone else.

“By the time he was a senior, I wouldn’t let Prince talk too much in team meetings because he knew all the answers,” Lyons said, adding that he personally coaches the defensive backs. “I needed the other guys in the room to figure it out.”

Smith’s ability to soak in information like a sponge has apparently carried over into the professional ranks. He’s been participating in the Eagles’ virtual meetings and picking up the defense rather easily. The 5-foot-10 cornerback has also been using the time to bulk up his frame and better his 40-time. Smith is up from 185 pounds to 190.

“He feels good about his strength and speed right now,” Lyons said. “He’s consistently running a 4.4 [40 time].”

Remember, Smith wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and had his pro day canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he’s a fierce workout warrior in the gym who set a new school record at New Hampshire when he squat-lifted 495 pounds, an insane number for a defensive back. He also set the mark for the highest vertical jump.

The Dino Vasso Connection in Philly

One big advantage Smith may have over his fellow rookies is a friendly face on the sideline. Dino Vasso serves as a defensive coach for the Eagles, a role he has held since 2016. He was promoted to assistant coordinator/defense this past offseason.

Vasso is kind of a legend in New Hampshire where he was a four-year defensive back and started 51 straight games. He often goes back to his alma mater to coach up the kids and impart words of wisdom. Smith knows Vasso well.

“It helps having Dino there,” Lyons said. “He was a really good player for UNH. He’s talked to our kids. I’ve talked to him [Smith] recently and he feels he has a good grasp on everything they [the Eagles] are doing from a coverage standpoint.”

It’s a good start. Will it be enough? He’ll not only be up against veteran cornerbacks at training camp but another talented undrafted rookie free agent named Grayland Arnold. It should be an interesting summer.

And, if all else fails, Smith can always rely on his physicality to win a job. He was a willing press corner in Lyons’ 4-2-5 scheme, plus he was a dual-threat in stopping the run against bigger tight ends.

“He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s physical,” Lyons said. “I liked playing him into the boundary because he could press ’em a lot of times, in different coverages. He’s very confident, always up to the challenge of going against the best receivers of whomever we were playing.”

Prince Smith Jr – New Hampshire Wildcats Highlights2018-11-30T18:51:43Z

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