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Louisville DE Marcus Smith might convert to linebacker in NFL

Marcus Smith, who was second in the nation with 14.5 sacks this season, arrived at Louisville in 2010 after playing quarterback in high school, and he finished his Cardinals career as a defensive end. He might be making another position change in the NFL.

Smith measured 6-foot-3 and 258 pounds in Monday's weigh-in at the Reese's Senior Bowl, small for a defensive end in the NFL, and his pass-rush skills have led some NFL teams to think he can make the switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He is familiar with moving around.

Smith was a high school quarterback in Columbus, Ga., but didn't project as a college quarterback. He was 6-3 and 210 pounds when he signed with Louisville and was a linebacker as a true freshman with the Cardinals in 2010. He moved to end the next spring and had a combined 9.5 sacks in 2011 and '12, when he still was learning the intricacies of the position.

Smith put everything together this season, using a quick first step and underrated strength to rack up 14.5 sacks, a half-sack behind national leader Trent Murphy, a Stanford outside linebacker who played in 14 games to Smith's 13. Smith also had four forced fumbles this season, giving him eight for his career, and held up well against the run.

"I feel I am a threat off the edge," Smith told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I've only been playing the position for 2 1/2 years. I think I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be."

Smith admitted to the Journal Sentinel that playing outside linebacker "is a whole different ball game" than end.

"You have to look at coverage when you have one receiver or two receivers, or even the running back," Smith said. "So it's a lot harder than when you're playing with your hand in the dirt because all you're really doing is going against a tackle."

Because he has been solid against the run, Smith potentially is an every-down player as an outside 'backer in the 3-4.

"If a team like the Titans is looking for a pass rusher, I feel like I can be that guy," Smith told The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville. "But I can set the edge, too."

Smith's coverage ability is a big question, though, and a team's thoughts on that might determine how early he goes in the draft.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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