Former Eagles tight end L.J. Smith spoke out recently about his tumultuous final year with the Birds.
Coming off an injury-laden 2007 season, Smith received the franchise tag from the Eagles in 2008 despite having never made a Pro Bowl team. Another round of injuries ensued, forcing him to miss four starts and dropping his numbers far below expectations.
"There were some times when I felt last year there was a microscope on me. I felt like I had a bull's-eye on my back because I got franchised," Smith said this week.
Injuries didn't help him live up to the franchise tag.
The 29-year-old Smith played in only 10 games in 2007 because of the lingering effects of a sports hernia, a groin injury and a sore knee. His misfortune continued last year, when he missed time with a shoulder injury, a concussion and a bad back.
Smith finished with 37 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns -- hardly worthy of his $4.52 million contract as a franchise player. Smith readily concedes missed time was a factor, but believes he would have been more productive with a larger role in the game plan.
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Smith didn't have a 100-yard game last season, but his backup did. While Smith was sidelined with a concussion, Brent Celek caught six passes for 131 yards -- the highest single-game yardage total by an Eagles tight end in more than 40 years.
"I felt like there were some opportunities I could have capitalized on, and they could have used me a little differently," Smith said. "But I'll say I had a good time there. I became a man in Philadelphia and I learned a lot. I just felt like it was kind of, well, we're not going to bring him back so let's bring up the other guy a little bit."
This season, the sure-handed tight end intends to be an attractive target for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Soon after becoming a free agent, Smith signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Baltimore.
"I'm definitely excited because I see I'm going to be able to contribute. I'm another weapon on offense," Smith said. "[Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] is going to get me involved. At the same time, if I don't master this offense it's going to be tough. That's my job right now, to get this offense down. Once I do that, I'm good to go."
"It doesn't matter if you're a 10-year vet or a second-year player who had a great rookie season, you always have something to prove because they're always looking to replace you. That's just the nature of the game," Smith said.