As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Marcus Smith as the 26th selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, to the football world, fans from Philadelphia in unison asked, “Who is Marcus Smith?”
The 22-year-old will look to add a more consistent pass rush for the Eagles and become a mainstay in the Eagles hybrid defense. Smith’s journey to the NFL is a little unusual. The Eagles new defensive end was not originally a defensive player. Marcus Smith grew up in the third largest city in Georgia, Columbus. When he played football at Hardaway High School, he did not start out on the defensive side of the ball.
“He always had good character.” Hardaway’s head coach Jeffery Battles said. ‘He was our quarterback when he was here. He was always a big kid. There’s not a bad thing you could say about him.”
Smith threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for four more during his time in high school. His production for the Hardaway Hawks caught the attention of schools across the south. He was offered scholarships to The University of Florida and The University of Louisville. Smith chose to play for then-Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. The question still lingered if Smith would enter Louisville as a quarterback or would he try a new position.
“He was always athletic.” Battles stated. “We saw him more like a tight end. His first week at camp when he called me and he told me he was moving to defense.” Smith did not know that switching to defense would be his best path to the NFL.
Smith went on to play linebacker and ultimately defensive end for the Cardinals. Coach Strong saw his athleticism and suggested the move.
“When we moved him from quarterback we knew it would work because he had a lot of toughness and great instincts. A guy that is as athletic as he is that can be physical on the line and drop into coverage is rare.” Strong proclaimed.
During his senior season, he led Louisville in sacks and tackles for loss. His performance led him to being named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s so athletic and can do a lot of things. Because of the speed he has he can put so much pressure on an offensive tackle and just create so many problems for the offense. He is a special player.”
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly had a chance to see Smith in person.
When Louisville came to Philadelphia to play Temple University, Chip Kelly saw his eventual first-round pick collect five tackles, three of which were for a loss and one sack. The Eagles scouts continued to track Smith’s progress from the combine through the draft and eventually selected him 26th overall. Websites such as NFL.com had Smith being selected in either the third or fourth round. Smith had heard from teams that he would be selected even higher than he was projected. “I had an idea of when I was going to be drafted. It was a surprise to me when they called me.” With other players available on the draft board, the Eagles believed that he would be the best fit for their defense. The Eagles will look to use Smith in many ways. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis will have some flexibility in the personnel groupings, especially in passing situations.
One area that Smith will have to improve upon is his ability to shed blockers and turn runners back inside toward the defense. Smith knows that he has to get better. When he was critiquing his defensive abilities, Smith wants to be a complete player. He highlighted his desire to be a better player against the opposing team’s rushing attack. It will be very interesting to see if the Eagles selected the right person in the 2014 NFL draft. For now, the Eagles, the University of Louisville and Hardaway High School are all happy for Smith. His high school coach said it best: “It is unbelievable, everybody agrees it is an amazing time for him, and we are just so proud of him.” For the Eagles organization and their fans, they hope the 6 foot 3 defensive end from Columbus, Ga. will contribute to the defense for years to come.
Chris Franklin is a staff writer for Coach & Player Magazine and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America & Football Writers Association of America. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisfranklincp or on Google.