Marcus Smith came to Florida’s football camp in 2009 as a high school quarterback from Columbus, Ga. Texas coach Charlie Strong was the Gators’ defensive coordinator at the time and was intrigued by Smith, who was 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds at the time.
“I knew he wasn’t a quarterback,” Strong said Friday during a telephone interview, “but I knew he was something.”
When Strong became Louisville’s head coach, he signed Smith and moved him to linebacker. Four years later, Smith added 41 pounds to his 6-3 frame, was the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year, and on Thursday became the Eagles’ first-round pick.
After the pick, Eagles coach Chip Kelly raved about Smith’s potential. Strong sees the same upside as Kelly, believing the 22-year-old will continue to develop as he learns the position and the scheme.
“Once he learns what to do, because he’s going to give you the effort and he plays with good fundamentals and techniques, he’s only going to get better,” Strong said. “The guy’s just going to get better and better. It’s not that the position is new to him, but he’s willing to learn and take his game to the next level.”
Although Smith was listed as a defensive end in college, Strong emphasized that Louisville played a multiple defense and used Smith in a variety of roles. Playing as a stand-up linebacker in the NFL will not be an adjustment for Smith, who filled that role often during the past three seasons.
“He’s a guy who can play in that stand-up position and can play with his hand down,” Strong said. “And he just has that speed and quickness to create problems off the edge.”
The Eagles need to upgrade their pass rush, so Smith’s skills as an edge rusher is what’s most attractive. But Kelly requires his outside linebackers to set the edge and drop into coverage, and Smith has the athleticism and experience to do both.
“What I tried to do with outside ‘backers and a guy like Marcus, because he’s so athletic, I’d find who was a weaker lineman, and I’d try to find a mismatch when I did try to rush him,” Strong said. “And we’d drop into a lot of zone coverages, he was a guy who was a guy who can drop into coverage, play a lot of flat curl technique or play man technique on a defender, whether it be a tight end or running back.”
Strong admitted Smith will need to adapt to how the Eagles use him, and emphasized that’s the case with all players coming from college. He also vouched for Smith's character, saying Smith "never had an issue" and is "someone who’s willing to do anything for anyone." In his conversations with Kelly, Strong emphasized Smith’s upside and work ethic.
“Just told him what kind of player I thought he was and how he could help the Eagles organization, and how much better he’s going to get,” Strong said. “He’s a guy who’s willing to work. He’s not a guy that you’re going have to force to do anything. He’s going to show up and be ready to go when it’s time to go.”