Draft Preview: USC LB Cameron Smith

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Four year starters aren’t as common as they used in college football. Players are leaving school early more and more with each passing year. Some teams, when it comes to the draft, value experience higher than others.

After enrolling at USC in the spring of 2015, Cameron Smith became a starter that fall and refused to relinquish that spot. The senior captain was able to put up consistent statistical numbers over the course of his career that included 354 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. His total tackles numbers were good enough to put him 6th overall in the PAC-12 since 2005. In 2018, he improved on his per game averages putting up 9 tackles per game (his previous best was 8 per game in 2017). He also chipped in 4 interceptions and 14 pass breakups in his career.

The man in the middle of the USC defense is listed at 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds but looks leaner. It will be interesting to see in the coming months the accuracy of those numbers. He was used as a blitzer often from the inside on cross dog blitzes, sugaring the A gap, and occasionally when lined up in the slot over a receiver. They used him in zone coverage to disrupt receivers that came through his area and in man coverage on tight ends and running backs.

What I Liked

Downhill – He has good acceleration and short area quickness that allow him to see the opening and hit gaps at the line of scrimmage quickly and disrupt running plays in the backfield.

Taking on the Edge – Showed a willingness to set the edge to force plays back inside.

Effort – Shows good effort from down to down to chase across and downfield to make plays.

Awareness in Zone – Does a good job keeping his head on a swivel and will disrupt the routes of crossers and slot receivers trying to get up the seam.

Open field tackling – Good at coming under control, getting low, and squaring up runners. He’s a sure tackler.

Areas to Improve

Reading the Mesh – He doesn’t follow the ball through the mesh point in the backfield cleanly. He’ll chase the fake and leave his gap open for the runner.

Stack and shed – Gets swallowed up by OL and doesn’t show the play strength to disengage and make the tackle.

Blitz timing – When coming from off the ball to blitz his timing is off just a bit which prevents him from attacking at full speed when the ball is snapped.

Diagnosing – I felt he wasn’t always reading his keys but was relying on seeing openings at the line of scrimmage and accelerating to get into holes on inside runs and taking a false step forward on outside zone runs.

Pass Rushing – While he was often used to blitz he didn’t have a lot of success pressuring unless there was a free lane. He didn’t get push and wasn’t able to get around interior offensive lineman.

Coverage consistency – He doesn’t consistently get good depth on passing plays. Remains flat footed on some plays.

Some Highlights

Downhill – Against Washington State, with a double team block in front of him, Smith (#35) shows good acceleration to get into the gap before the left guard can come off to block him and shows good agility to duck under and get a hand on the leg of the runner.

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Scrape – At UCLA, Smith faces an outside run to his right. He avoids the crack block by the WR, stays to the inside of the RB, and makes the tackle near the sideline.

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Patience – At Stanford, RB Bryce Love (#20) presses to the outside but Smith waits to cover the backside gap and is able to fill and make the tackle after a short gain.

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Work through traffic – At Stanford, with eyes in the backfield, Smith is able to slip in between 2 double team blocks in front of him to get in the backfield and come to balance and help bring down the RB.

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Outlook

Smith has a lot of experience as a four year starter in the PAC-12. He shows the hustle and effort from play to play that any coach would like on their roster. He’s a good tackler especially in one on one situations. He plays with good downhill quickness but would benefit by improving play strength to take on and shed blockers.

After having the same coaching circle for 4 years, it will be interesting to see him at the Senior Bowl with different coaches to see what they ask of him and how he responds. It could be at inside or outside linebacker and even on special teams. A good time to show everyone everything he can do.

Follow Tom on Twitter @THMead3. Check out his other work here, such as his look at fellow Senior Bowl participant TCU Edge Ben Banogu, his preview of Virginia WR Olamide Zaccheaus or his look at if predicting the new NFL playoff teams is possible.

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