Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) battles past the block of UCF Knights running back William Stanback (28). Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft: Q&A with Louisville Defensive End Marcus Smith

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Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) sacks Connecticut Huskies quarterback Tim Boyle (14). David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

 

With the 2014 NFL Draft only a few months away, we reached out to some of the draft prospects we believe the Green Bay Packers could target in May. Earlier in the week we already heard from one Louisville prospect in Hakeem Smith, but today, we hear from athletic pass rusher and former Cardinal, Marcus Smith.

As an athletic defensive end/linebacker hybrid, Smith not only led Louisville in sacks with 14.5 and quarterback pressures with 12 in 2013, but he was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

At 6-3 and 252 pounds, Smith has prototypical size and speed (4.68) for the 3-4 outside linebacker position in the NFL. He also has experience in the Cardinals defense rushing from a two-point stance and dropping back into coverage – both valuable skills for 3-4 teams, such as the Packers, who are looking to draft a pass-rushing outside linebacker in May.

Smith is one of the more complete DE/OLB players in this year’s draft class. He has the ability to do it all at the position, and he’s a player that is gaining steam as the draft approaches. NFL Draft Scout projects Smith to go as early as the second round, and the former Louisville standout is a player reportedly the Packers already have on their radar to draft this spring.

I had the privilege to speak with Smith over the phone last week, and here is what he had to say about his game and possibly playing in Green Bay.

Q. First, tell us what led you to play defensive end for Louisville? 

MS: I grew up in Columbus, Ga., and coming out of high school I was a quarterback and then I became a defensive end/linebacker for Louisville. At first, I was supposed to go to the University of Florida, but I switched to the University of Louisville because Coach Strong had left Florida and became Louisville’s head coach. I felt committed to what he was trying to do and I wanted to go where he was going to be.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91). Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Q. You went to Louisville as a quarterback, so how did the switch to defensive end come about?

MS: I was playing quarterback for about my first week there. Shortly into training camp I wasn’t getting as many reps as I wanted because I had two seniors in front of me, so Coach Strong came to me and asked if I wanted to play defense and I want over there and played defense and I never wanted to go back. I even ended up starting.

Q. Was it a difficult transition to play defense after playing quarterback for so many years?

MS: Yeah, it was definitely tough. I hadn’t played defense since Pop Warner. I had to change my whole mentality and the way I play football. It was very tough at first, but my junior and senior year at Louisville really highlighted the way I grew as a football player.

Q. You really impressed me with your performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami. You also had a really good season last year, recording 14.5 sacks and 18.5 TFL. What does it mean to you to finish your career at Louisville in this manner?

MS: It means everything to me. I feel like I pieced everything together that I learned over the years, just coming to the defensive side of the ball. I didn’t know a lot at first. My sophomore year was kind of iffy, then my junior year I did a lot better. I came on the scene a little bit, and then I pieced it all together my senior year. So it meant everything to me. I knew all the hard work that I put in during the offseason helped me get to where I am today. I am very comfortable with where I’m playing now, and I just pray that another team picks me up and I can just show them that I’m capable of being that type of player for the team.

Q. You had a big season last year, and you’ve only been playing the position for a few years. Do you feel like you’re a pass rusher that still has room to grow?

MS: Yeah, I think I do have a lot of room to grow because I feel like there are still a lot of things out there that I don’t know yet. NFL teams might have things they could teach me that my college couldn’t, so I feel like my skills that I have now can mature and grow and I can really be an elite player in the NFL.

Q. Watching your film, you seem like an athletic pass rusher. I know you played end in college, but you also rushed in a two-point stance quite frequently. Are you a guy that can play either end or outside linebacker in the pros? 

MS: Yeah, I can definitely play both. A lot of teams I think see me as an outside linebacker, but if any team needs me to put on a few pounds and play defensive end, I can do that as well. I played both end and linebacker in college. I’m very familiar with both, and I’m capable of playing both as well.

Q. Do you have a preference between playing as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker?

MS: I really don’t care because I’ll play either, but I did tell teams at the Combine that I like to stand up and see the whole picture no matter if it’s a 4-3 or 3-4. I like to stand up even if I’m an end on the outside so I know what’s going on and get a better read on the field.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) and safety Jermaine Reve (27) sack South Florida Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels (7) for a loss. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Q. The Packers will be looking for a pass rushing OLB to add to their 3-4 defense, so do you think you could be that guy?

MS: Yeah, totally. I definitely could be that guy. To be on a great team like that, helping out their pass rush. I know they already have an elite pass rusher in Clay Matthews. I try to patent my game after him and just watch him play I want to be just like that. If the Packers land me in the draft that would be a great opportunity for me to get coached up by the best.

I know I could be that guy for the Packers to help them win ball games and be part of a defense that helps them win championships. I know I have the potential to be that guy. It’s just a matter of whether the Green Bay Packers are going to take that chance on me, but I think it would be a good fit.

Q. Describe for us your game. What are your strengths, and what makes you unique as a pass rusher?

MS: One of my strengths as a pass rusher is my speed. I’m a speed-first guy. Secondly, is my hand movement and head fakes. I have a lot of pass rush moves. That’s what makes me dynamic. On film you don’t necessarily always see that because most of the time in college I didn’t have to use all of my pass rush moves because of my speed. However, the pass rush moves do come out. I have a chops, spins, a bull rush, and head fakes. I have a lot of pass rush moves that my coaches taught me that I can do on the field. That’s what I feel like makes me effective as a pass rusher.

Also, sometimes I drop into coverage. Being that I can drop into coverage, it puts offenses in a bind because they don’t know when I’m dropping into coverage or coming after the quarterback.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) catches a pass to complete a two point conversion. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) catches a pass to complete a two point conversion. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Q. If you played OLB in the 3-4, how do you feel you’d handle the other duties at the position besides rushing the passer, like dropping in coverage and holding the edge against the run?

MS: I love setting the edge against the run. That’s what it’s all about. That’s your first concern as a defender. You have to be able to stop the run first. As far as dropping back against the pass, I know every concept when it comes to playing in coverage as a linebacker. If I had to drop in the flat or down the seam or be one-on-one with a running back, I can do all of that. I am very used to it with my experience in college. I’m very open to doing all the duties at the position, including coverage. I feel I’m the complete package when it comes to outside linebacker. I can rush, set the edge against the run, and also cover.

Q. Does your athleticism help you play in space and drop back in coverage?

MS: Yeah, it helps a lot, but another thing that helps is just studying film. The athleticism will only take you so far, but if you’re in the film room and you know what is going to happen on the field before it happens that helps you play the position and do well in coverage. I used to help the defensive line at Louisville all the time with quarterback and offensive tendencies because I used to play quarterback and know that side of the ball. I could do the same thing on my team in the NFL.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) celebrates their last defensive stand against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) celebrates their last defensive stand against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports

Q. I heard the Packers were one of the teams that talked to you at the Combine. How did that go and are the Packers one of the teams you could see yourself playing for?

MS: I had a formal meeting with the Packers. It went really well. I kind of had the same conversation that we’re having right now. I think they were really pleased with me. I think they really liked me, but you know, you really never know until that day comes. I got a good impression from them. It would be a great thing if it happened. I would love to play for them, but it would be a great opportunity period to just play in the NFL.

Q. What would you bring to their team if the Packers drafted you?

MS: I would bring a winning mentality. You always have to bring a winning mentality when it comes to a rookie coming into the NFL that wants to play right away. I’m also a team player, so I could play special teams. Special teams plays a big factor on Sunday, and you need special teams players that can go out on the field and be able to make that play. Third, I would bring all the tangibles that I have. If they needed me to play defensive end and stop the edge, I would. If they needed me to rush the passer, I would. If they needed me to drop into coverage, I would. Bringing all that to the table I think I could help them out. I want to be just like Clay Matthews. If they’re running a 3-4 with Clay on one side and me on the other side, that forces offenses to have to account for both sides and makes their defense that much better.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) rushes past the Rutgers Scarlet Knights offensives line. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) rushes past the Rutgers Scarlet Knights offensives line. Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Q. We talked about your strengths, what is an area of your game you’d still like to improve before the draft in May?

MS: When it comes to shedding blocks, I’d like to do it more violently. I think I do a good job of shedding blocks right now, but I want to be great at it. I think teams wonder sometimes with me coming from quarterback and then playing defensive end how physical I am. I just want to be able to get into camp and be able to show them that I am a physical football player. That would be the one thing I really want to work on before the draft, just shedding blocks with more violence.

Q. You posted some pretty good numbers at the Combine, what were you able to show scouts about your game?

MS: When I was doing defensive line drills, I was able to show teams how elusive I was and how fast I was coming off the edges and how fast I can get through the bag drill. I was able to show my quickness and my physical ability. Also, I was able to show my linebacking skills and how well I can drop back into coverage and move in space. I think I showed the complete package. I also ran a fast 40 time (4.68) at the Combine, so that helped show my skills as well.

Q. When you’re drafted this spring and begin your new career in the NFL, what will be some goals you’ll set for yourself in your first year in the league?

MS: My first goal will be to try and get on the field right away and make an impact for my team. The second goal will be to be a dominant player and to have at least ten sacks my rookie year. I feel if I have at least ten sacks in the year that shows I’m making plays and helping my team win ball games. Third, I’d like to make it to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. I’d like to be there with some of the great players in the league. It would be a great honor.

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) sacks South Florida Bulls quarterback Bobby Eveld (13). Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith (91) sacks South Florida Bulls quarterback Bobby Eveld (13). Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Q. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time? 

MS: I like to play basketball and listen to music. That’s about all I like to do other than football. I don’t really play video games. I just like to be with my family and hangout if I’m not working out or playing football. I like to just get away from it sometimes and be with the people who were there before it all started.

Q. Who have been the most influential people in your life?

MS: My mom and my dad. They’ve been by my side this whole time. They’ve always stayed in my ear, and if they weren’t there and I was about to do something wrong, I could still hear their voices in my ear. Them being there in my life really helped me be the person I am today. They never steered me wrong, whether I was in high school or in college. They may not be the type of parent that has a lot, but I think they mean well and they’ve really helped me become a great person and a great football player.

Q. If you didn’t play football, what would you do for a career?

MS: If I didn’t play football, I think I’d be coaching it. I’d be coaching football or basketball. I love sports. If I wasn’t playing it, I’d want to be close to it. After football is over, coaching is something I would want to do. I think I’d like to start off coaching college and maybe eventually coach in the pros.

 

Career college stats

• 2013 – 42 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 3 PBUs, 4 FF, and a blocked kick

• 2012 – 29 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 2 PBUs, 2 FF, and an INT

• 2011 – 12 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, PBU, and 2 FF

• 2010 – 3 tackles and a TFL

 

Film and Highlights on Marcus Smith

Marcus Smith Highlights

 

Marcus Smith against Rutgers: 5 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, and a QB hurry

 

Marcus Smith against Connecticut: 4 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, FF, and a QB hurry

 

Watch more film on Marcus Smith over at draftbreakdown.com.

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