Sophomore Defensive Lineman Marcus Tillman got a baptism by fire into the world of college football last season as a true freshman.
Not only did he come out the blocks strong enough to become an early starter, he eventually - out of necessity and a lack of healthy bodies - ended up playing on the outside at both defensive end and LEO (rush end), and closed the season at defensive tackle.
"It was hard to adjust to everything that was asked of me, but I was willing to give it a try for the good of the team," Tillman, a very quiet, soft-spoken young man, said. "My freshman year ended up being a good experience because it prepared me for whatever the future had in store for me."
Marcus will be moved back to the position he likes the most this spring - LEO, or rush end. There have been constant inquiries since the season ended on whether or not Tillman would stay inside or move back outside. It was speculated he might "outgrow" DE, but that hasn't been the case, even though he is now bigger than he was during the 2006 campaign.
"I'm about 270 pounds right now, which is what the coaches say is an ideal size for a DE in this system," he explained. "I feel good about LEO. It's the position I like the most.
"I am actually faster now than I was at 260. I'm moving better with my weight now. When I first got here, I just gained weight and it wasn't good weight. I wasn't moving very well. I have now replaced the bad weight with good weight and I can tell the difference in my movement in the offseason."
Movement - quickness and speed - are two of the requirements for the rush end. Marcus believes he's up to the task.
"I think LEO is my natural position and I'm excited about it because it allows me more opportunities to get after the quarterback," noted Marcus, who is a solid 6-4. "That's fun for anyone on the DL - to have sack chances.
"We didn't have a lot of sacks last year. I plan on helping to change that from the LEO slot."
Tillman said the college game did not throw him for a loop as much as he was expecting.
"To me, college football looks a lot harder on TV than it is, which is mostly all the exposure I had gotten to it before I got here. It's faster and more intense, but it's just football," Tillman added. "The biggest difference is that you can't make mistakes.
"In high school, you can make up for your mistakes. In college, if you make a mistake, it's over. The offenses we play against seem to capitalize on every mistake you make. You have to be in the game on every play and do your assignments correctly on every snap or you pay the price."
Based on his performance last year, and having a year of experience under his belt, Marcus believes better things are in store for him.
"I want to lead us in sacks. I want opposing offenses to know they are not going to run on my side. Those are my goals. It's not that complicated," he stated.
Tillman has not only gained 10 pounds, he feels he is a stronger athlete now than when he first reported last summer.
"I've gotten stronger. I still have a year or so to go before I am equal in strength to some of the older guys, but I am getting there," Tillman said. "There's something about the bench press that I'm not quite getting and making enough progress on, but I'm doing a lot better in some of the other basic, explosive lifts. I'll get there."
Marcus is anxious to get spring training started to see the development of the 2007 defense. He has confidence the Rebs can be "very good" on that side of the ball.
"We have an experienced front coming back, but we have to replace some guys on the back end of the defense," he evaluated. "Everything starts up front and we should be OK there. And the coaches have signed some good players for the back seven.
"I think we will be a real good defense. The thing about defense is playing as a team and coming together. Everyone on our team has got everyone else's back. We will do our job, be in the right spots and make plays. I'm very confident in the potential of the defense, but it's up to us to put it all together."
Tillman's competition at LEO this spring will be junior Chris Bowers and redshirt freshman Kentrell Lockett.
"I think LEO is in good hands. I think the three of us can make things happen there and compliment each other," he closed. "LEO is more natural for me, but if something comes up like it did last year, I'll play wherever the coaches want me to."
Marcus Tillman update
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