Levonta Taylor recalled the pain, a stress fracture of the L5 vertebrae in his lower back.
The Florida State defensive back couldn’t fly, let alone create a “no-fly zone,” in games toward the end of his junior season.
“Everything’s good now,” Taylor said. “That’s the main reason why I didn’t finish the season last year, so I can recover. A lot of times I didn’t travel to keep my posture straight. But everything’s good now.”
Stanford Samuels III also was limping through the season, too. A sprained ankle, suffered early in the season, never healed.
“Not sure how bad or what degree it was,” Samuels said. “Just bounce back from it.”
Bounce back may be the theme for Florida State in 2019. And perhaps no more than for the secondary, which has talent throughout the group but struggled against the pass last fall (120th in FBS, allowing 260 yards per game).
But the Seminoles’ secondary takes on a different look with a healthy Taylor and Samuels. The veterans are likely starters – Samuels at corner with Taylor a nickel-safety hybrid – and should anchor a group that has a chip on its shoulder and is determined to show what it can do.
“The secondary, we’ve come in with a whole new attitude,” Samuels said. “We’re leaving last year in the past. We know what we’re capable of and we’re going to come out and show it when we get a chance.”
What are they capable of doing? Let’s take a look at each:
Samuels: A prototype corner
At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Samuels represents the frame that college (and NFL) coaches dream of in a corner. He’s long, athletic and should excel in one-on-one coverage.
Samuels has played corner and safety at FSU but is back to corner this fall. Wherever he’s lined up, Samuels has been in position to grab interceptions – he added four as a sophomore in 2018 after picking off two as a true freshman.
But where is he most comfortable? Samuels admitted that it’s corner, which is where he played most of the time at Pemroke Pines Flanagan High.
“I would definitely say that’s where I want to be,” Samuels said. “Wherever the team needs me, that’s where I’ll be. But I’m definitely glad to be back at corner. That’s home for me. I’m just ready to go to work.”
And work will be busy for Samuels. He will likely take on the responsibility of lining up against an opponent’s No. 1 receiver. If he’s up to the challenge, Samuels could force quarterbacks to look elsewhere.
Taylor: A hybrid defensive back
Lamarcus Joyner is listed at 5-8, while Tyrann Mathieu at 5-9. Nobody is comparing Levonta Taylor, who is 5-10, to the NFL stars but it makes sense for the senior to watch game film of both and pick up what they do well as he tries to replicate it at FSU.
Taylor has spent his career as a corner but now his role will be more of a nickel corner/free safety. He envisions himself dropping back into coverage, running around and making tackles but also blitzing. Taylor may line up just about anywhere on a drive-by-drive or week-by-week basis.
“It depends on which game or personnel and who the players on the opposite team are,” Taylor said. “I’m just everywhere right now.”
When healthy, Taylor has graded consistently well as a cover corner. But his instincts as well as toughness are remarkable. He has the capability to blanket the smaller slot receivers. And he’s also fearless – former FSU corner Marquez White said he had the “heart of a lion” – and Taylor is able to read plays, close on receivers and make open-field tackles.
“Coach (Harlon Barnett) wanted me to study Tyrann Mathieu and Lamarcus Joyner and a lot of guys who move around,” Taylor said. “I’ve been doing that all summer and working very hard. Now, it’s just time to put everything into play. This is my last season, I got to go out there and get it. No excuses.”
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