By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It’s always been about adjusting and hard work for Marcus Smith. He experienced a coaching change his junior year in high school, moving from under center to the shot gun and succeeded.
At Louisville, he underwent another seismic shift when his future was altered by throwing one too many passes into the dirt and the Cardinals’ coaching staff deemed him more valuable on defense.
On Friday, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound linebacker stood patiently behind a podium, introduced as the Eagles’ first-round draft pick. The whirlwind continues for Smith, who you couldn’t help but sense can’t wait to see what he can do in the NFL.
Smith has been challenged before and has had a habit of rising. He did whatever he needed to get on the field at Louisville. That doesn’t seem to change here with the Eagles.
“I haven’t played defense since Pop Warner, but I’m so happy to be playing outside linebacker,” Smith said. “I didn’t have that [defensive] mentality. It took me a year-and-a-half to get it. I still had that quarterback sense of humor. The way I did things, it just wasn’t right for the defense. Once I got that killer instinct, I started to play really well. I didn’t like how I was playing quarterback at the time. Nothing I was doing was going right, and I felt maybe it was time for a change.”
Howie Roseman said the Eagles still would have taken Smith at No. 22, before the Eagles traded down with Cleveland to 26 and also received the Browns’ 83rd pick in the third round.
“Marcus is a really good athlete who can drop and play in space, and they moved him all over [at Louisville],” Roseman said. “His versatility shows up and it’s hard to miss. His ability that, and to do all of those things we’re asking our outside linebackers to do, and the other stuff that he admits that he has to work on, are all the things that we see.”
Roseman said he expects a transformation taking place once Smith connects with the Eagles’ coaches, their strength training and sports-science personnel and with the veterans.
In his senior year, Smith had 18.5 tackles for losses for minus-124 yards and finished second in the nation in sacks with 14.5, playing in the weak American Athletic Conference (where Temple plays), which had only four of its 10 teams above .500. Of Smith’s 14.5 sacks in 2013, 10.5 came against AAC opponents. Smith did have two sacks in Louisville’s 36-9 victory over Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“I think [competition level] always comes into play with these guys,” Roseman said. “But it’s kind of funny, we talk about quality of competition a lot, but even in big-time conferences, it’s hard to find good offensive line play. That’s the amazing thing about the National Football League. It’s hard to get here. It’s hard to play here. I feel Coach [Charlie] Strong did a tremendous job in building the toughness of the defense of the Louisville program. Knowing that, knowing he’s been through that, that’s part of it, too.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.