Florida State sophomore Stanford Samuels III was seen taking some snaps at safety, just as he did in spring practice. We received many questions about this Monday, since many fans figured he would start at cornerback exclusively, so I figured an explanation was worthwhile.
The explanation starts with understanding the role of the star position in FSU’s defense. Under the old defensive systems FSU ran under Charles Kelly and Jeremy Pruitt (Nick Saban’s design), the “star” position was typically a safety/cornerback hybrid player.
In FSU’s new defense, the Mark Dantonio/Pat Narduzzi/Harlon Barnett Michigan State base Cover 4, the “star” position is also a hybrid, but it is a hybrid of safety/linebacker, as opposed to corner/safety. This means that the star will be a bigger player, more capable of stopping the run, but not as good as a coverage player, in theory. These players in FSU’s 2018 defense appear to be Jaiden Woodbey and Decalon Brooks.
“That guy -- that guy is what I tell people all the time, the star linebacker for us. He’s like an old school strong safety, is kind of what I think. I think the old school strong safety doesn’t exist any more, not in the type of defense that we’re trying to run. You know, the big O guy, the David Fulchers of the world, Steve Atwater type guys, because everybody has to be able to run, cover and tackle, everybody, in the secondary, I believe.” — DC Harlon Barnett
But that is by design. FSU will not ask its star position to cover deep passes very often. In its Cover 4 defense, the star will play the slot receiver in underneath coverage, and will carry him until it is obvious that he is running a vertical (deep) route. The Star’s coverage responsibilities are interchangeable with those of the traditional outside backer.
At that point, the safety will pick up the receiver running deep, as the Cover 4 scheme converts to man-to-man coverage against vertical routes. That means that FSU’s safeties, especially the one over top of the slot needs to be able to cover like a cornerback.
This need is easily filled by Stanford Samuels III, who is the biggest of the three cornerbacks vying for starting spots (along with Levonta Taylor and Kyle Meyers).
The use of Samuels III at safety also allows FSU to get its best three defensive backs (Samuels, Taylor, Meyers) on the field at one time. Due to their size, it would not make as much sense to play Taylor or Meyers at safety.
This does not mean that Samuels III will play safety the entire year, or even the majority of the time. It is simply something FSU is trying out.
While FSU will play its base Cover 4 on most standard downs (1st down, 2nd & 7 or less, 3rd & 5 or less), it will have a myriad of other packages for passing downs, including ones where all three players will play cornerback. Goal-line packages will also be different.