Marcus Smith hadn’t played defense since Pop Warner. He had always been a quarterback. But when he got to Louisville he was stuck behind a pair of seniors, was receiving limited reps and by his own account was “throwing some balls in the dirt.” Head coach Charlie Strong decided to try him out on the defensive side of the ball one day, and there he remained for the rest of his career.
He started as a SAM linebacker, moved to five tech following some injuries along the defensive front and began playing in a variety of roles as he grew more comfortable his junior and senior seasons. Smith said he was 217 when he got to Louisville and bulked all the way up to 265 when he was asked to play five technique. He is 255 now.
The challenge was not just learning new positions or adding all that mass, but acquiring the right mindset to properly transition from being the quarterback to someone that hunts them down.
"When I came over to the outside linebacker position, I didn't have that mentality," he said. "It took me maybe a year-and-a-half to get it because I still had a quarterback [mentality] and the way I did things, it just wasn't right for the defense. My coaches stayed with me the whole time, believed in me and once I got that killer instinct, that's when I started playing really well."
How do you develop a killer instinct?
"In the offseason when we did stuff like mat drills and wrestling with each other, getting at each other and being very competitive, that's where I built it at and I brought it to the football field," Smith replied. "Having a killer instinct, everything you do has to be very violent. That's what my coach preached all the time and once I got that violence about myself I started being a very, very violent player and I started being successful."
It all came together for Smith his senior season when he totaled 14.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles en route to becoming the American Athletic Conference's defensive player of the year. He believes the fact that he had only one such season factored into why some did not have a first-round grade on him.
Speaking of which, Smith was asked what he would say to Eagles fans who are concerned because he was widely projected to go outside the first round.
"I would just tell them to sit back and just relax. I feel like I can be a great player, especially under the vets that we have this year. We have great outside linebackers here and I just want to be able to learn under them,and I can come in and contribute to the team. Even though I wasn't projected high, it's not all about what people project, it's only about what the coaches and GMs think of you. I'll try not let anyone down. I just want to come in, work hard, be successful and just help this team win."