Strength in numbers

While FSU still lacks a dominating, shut-you-down cornerback, the Seminoles return six players with experience. Stanford Samuels should be a key performer, and the junior from Miami like his unit and wants the 'Noles to rely on a familiar weapon. "This year we want coach (Andrews) to do his thing -- blitz. Bring 'em from everywhere and leave us on an island," Samuels said. "...We are really going to show what our talent is and that we can put it on the field and lock people down."

Florida State's depth at corner was obvious during spring drills. In fact, it was often difficult to tell which players were first-, second- and third-team. However, it was easy to see that junior Stanford Samuels enjoyed the best spring of the bunch, earning defensive MVP honors.

Samuels' aggressive, vocal style gave a needed spark to a unit that struggled in 2001.

"I felt like that was one of the problems last year -- I was a sometimes leader," Samuels said. "I had the eye of the team but I didn't use it. This year I feel like it's my responsibility to take that and ride with it."

Samuels, who started 11 of the Seminoles' 12 games last season and was credited with a career-high 40 tackles, including 28 unassisted, also realizes that talking a big game is far different from playing a big game. FSU was certainly quieted by some startling numbers at season's end -- 69th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, 65th in scoring defense and 43rd in total defense.

The Seminoles haven't lacked for motivation during their summer workouts. "Workouts have been going good -- that's what you expect from a team that's hungry, and that's what we are," Samuels said. "Last year was a year when everybody was down on us. We got blamed for everything -- the end of the dynasty, an 8-4 season. Everything last year was on us. We are real intense this year and real motivated and we have a bad attitude right now (about losing)."

One key to any defensive improvement begins in the secondary.

While the Seminoles still lack a dominating, shut-you-down cornerback, there seems to be strength in numbers and experience. FSU returns six corners, all of whom played last season.

Additionally, spring's biggest development was the play of the young safeties -- sophomore free safety Kyler Hall delivered one big hit after another and rovers Claudius Osei and Jerome Carter also stuck their noses in the middle of the action. FSU must replace Chris Hope and Abdual Howard, a pair that combined for 177 tackles, 15 pass breakups and five sacks last season.

"I am loving it -- those (safeties) are head hunters," Samuels said.

"That's what I want behind me -- big hitters. They are looking to separate the man from his soul. I really enjoy that. I will tell you right now. Our safeties may be better this year than they were last year. Granted, they are going to make some mistakes, mistakes that Chris Hope and Abdual Howard would not have made. But they are also going to make some plays that they would not have made. This spring there were days out there when those guys had receivers afraid to reach for the ball."

Of course, there was a time when opponents were afraid to match up against FSU's talented cornerbacks, who were able to stuff a passing game on quickness, speed and attitude. Samuels admits those ingredients have been missing at times in past years, including last season.

Miami, for example, averaged 9.2 yards per pass play in its 49-27 victory. Hurricane receiver Andre Johnson had three touchdown catches. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman completed 27 of 42 passes for 290 yards, and the Gators finished with 330 passing yards overall in their 37-13 win. Lowly Duke registered a 78-yard touchdown pass against the Seminoles' secondary. Even in spring drills, there were too many deep completions by the offense to suit defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

Samuels is well aware of the chatter.

"Everybody blames it on youth and inexperience," Samuels said. "Some guys blame it on a lack of talent. It's going to come to pass. We are really going to show what our talent is and that we can put it on the field and lock people down and not just go out there and maintain a Florida State status. That we can go out there and be a lock down unit."

There's no denying Samuels' talents. He started seven of the final eight games last season at left cornerback after starting the first four on the right side. His only non-start of the season came against Clemson, but he made six tackles in a reserve role. He had a career-high seven tackles against Florida and registered his first career interception against North Carolina. Samuels also ranked second on the team with a career-high seven pass break-ups.

Samuels says the Seminoles' strong finish, punctuated by wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl, carried over into spring drills and the offseason.

"At the end of last season, we were motivated to take over, the younger guys taking over how practicing was going," Samuels said.

"We started from there and it's picking right up. It's good to see but his challenges weren't needed because we had already made up our minds to go and get it. Now, you can see more participation in the summer. This time last summer or the summer before that, everybody was gone. Now it seems everyone is up here. We have more than 50 people everytime we go out there on the field to run. It's a positive sign."

Samuels also is confident in Seminole cornerbacks. Fellow junior Rufus Brown emerged from spring drills as the other starter. But others, such as Malcom Tatum, LeRoy Smith and Dominic Robinson are expected to play key roles. While another cornerback would seem unnecessary, Bryant McFadden's return from a broken foot will be welcomed. He ranks among the group's most talented players.

"We are deep," Samuels said.

"When you can be in the game well rested -- not being out there blown having to play -- that's always a plus. That and along with we have more experience. Things just seem to click more now. We have an attitude now. I know I had an up-and-down year where I didn't make the plays I should have. I could have made more plays. The respect is not there at all. And it shouldn't be because I didn't play well enough for people to respect me. But they will this year."

Samuels also looks for the Seminoles to blitz more this season, which is a sign of confidence in both the defensive front and the backfield.

"The thing we didn't do was blitz last year as much as we usually do," Samuel's said.

"We were still locked up in man (coverage) probably 75 percent of the game. That's where a majority of the problems came because we were young -- you go on ego trips when you are young. A lot of times that got in the way. This year we want coach (Andrews) to do his thing -- blitz. Bring 'em from everywhere and leave us on an island."

Samuels and mates are expecting a test in their season-opener against Iowa State in two months. The Cyclones return of do-it-all quarterback Seneca Wallace and eight starters from a defense that posted the program's stingiest numbers in a decade.

Wallace, a 5-10, 193-pound senior, was the Big 12 Conference's offensive newcomer of the year last season after finishing second in the league in total offense (219 yards per game). His completion percentage of 62.1 percent led the league. Overall, Wallace threw for 2,044 yards (167-for-269) with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 475 yards with seven touchdowns.

Samuels already has hunkered down in the video room to study Wallace and the Cyclones.

"I watch film almost every day," Samuels said. "Iowa State sort of reminds me of Virginia Tech, and he (Wallace) reminds me of a young Michael Vick. He's not as fast as Vick but he can make plays and his team rallies behind him. They are going to give us a great test. But the only bad part is we are the ones coming off an 8-4 season and we have a bad attitude right now."

And Samuels plans to carry his aggressive talk onto the field.

"Like I said, we've been blamed for everything," Samuels smiled. "Don't worry -- we will be ready."

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