Airing It Out

FSU cornerback <b>Leroy Smith</b> doesn't have to be reminded -- the ACC is well-stocked at quarterback. FSU's secondary will be tested in the Seminoles' opener Aug. 30 at North Carolina. Over the past two years, the Tar Heels' passing attack has averaged 253 yards per game. In fact, UNC set a single-season school record last season at 266.6 yards passing per game. Smith feels FSU's summer work has helped it prepare for the upcoming season. Click here for all the details.

Florida State cornerback Leroy Smith doesn't have to be reminded -- the Atlantic Coast Conference is well-stocked at quarterback.

FSU's secondary should be tested in the Seminoles' opener Aug. 30 at North Carolina. Over the past two years, the Tar Heels' high-powered passing attack has averaged 253 yards per game. In fact, UNC set a single-season school record last season with 266.6 yards passing per game behind the arm of Darien Durant.

Durant is one of eight returning starting quarterbacks in the ACC. Two of them -- Philip Rivers of North Carolina State and Matt Schaub of Virginia - are considered legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.

Along with FSU three-year starter Chris Rix, Maryland's Scott McBrien, Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst, and Durant, it's easy to see why defensive backfields could be back-pedaling this season. Last year, FSU allowed 235.2 yards passing per game and surrendered 21 passing touchdowns.

Smith, a redshirt junior from Quincy Shanks, believes the Seminoles will be much improved from a year ago, pointing to experience and quality depth. Smith, for one, enjoyed a solid spring and will battle for starting honors at right cornerback with Rufus Brown.

The Seminoles return two-deep at each position in the secondary. Additionally, FSU is expected to rely on more press and man coverage because of overall talent on defense.

"That's a huge difference," Smith said. "Everybody is aware of their (responsibilities) and that will make everyone better. Coach (Mickey) Andrews won't hesitate to rotate guys in. As long as everyone knows the scheme and understands it, we will be alright. All we care about this year is winning."

Smith, who earned the Iron Nole Award during spring drills, is also looking to build on last season. He played in 13 games, including two starts, and set career-highs in every category. He had 22 tackles and ranked second on the team with nine pass break-ups.

Smith, who continues to recover from a tweaked right hamstring, says he has been watching plenty of film to help prepare for the upcoming season. He also has made a point to wear a weighted vest during conditioning drills to help with stamina and strength.

"I am having a great summer, especially in the beginning but then I got a little nicked up with my hamstring," Smith said.

"But I am feeling better. I've been concentrating on getting stronger and faster. Plus, I've been studying. I want to be more aware of my position in terms of communicating with my teammates and knowing where they are at."

Smith knows where the football is going to be at this ACC season -- and it's a good bet it's going to be in the air a majority of the time. Incredibly, the league returns 22 players who have played QB in an ACC game at one time or another. Yes, 22. That group has thrown for 33,867 yards and 240 touchdowns.

Of course, Rivers and Schaub are the ring leaders.

Rivers started as a freshman for the Wolfpack and, barring injury, will easily establish the ACC record for career passing yards. The 6-5, 236-pound senior has passed for 8,962 yards in three seasons and is within 1,000 yards of breaking former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke's record of 9,839 yards.

Schaub, meanwhile, led Virginia to a second-place conference finish that included late-season victories over N.C. State (14-9) and Maryland (48-13). He threw for 2,976 yards and had a 4-to-1 ratio of touchdowns (28) to interceptions (7). He also was named the ACC Player of the Year.

Smith believes the Seminoles' secondary will be prepared for this season's challenges. FSU will holds its final summer conditioning session Wednesday. After a brief break, FSU reports for the start of practice Tuesday.

"Most definitely," Smith said.

"Really, with the talent we have, any of us can start at cornerback. But in order for us to play well in the backfield, we need the line and the linebackers to play well, too. As long as we have everybody working as one, that makes everyone better. We have a lot of faith in each other. Plus, our depth is going to be critical because how we rotate. Everyone has been working hard and we can't wait to get started."

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