Eric Samuels didn’t expect to be here, but if it is a stable position he’ll gladly accept that role.
After four spring practices, the Vanderbilt junior has solidified a spot in the rotation for safety. If he stays there when the fall rolls around, it will be Samuels’ fourth different position.
He was recruited out of Eustis, Fla. as a defensive back. But last season he moved from defensive back to running back and even returned kickoffs.
Now, he finds himself back on the defensive side, roaming around in the open field.
“It is not completely how I wanted it to be,” he said after Thursday night’s practice. “But stuff happens so whatever I have to do get on the field and help my team out is what I am going to do. When they first told me, I was kind of mad about the decision. But then I thought to myself, just go out there and work hard and know I am going to get some playing time anyways. So just go work hard and do what I have to do to get on the field.”
A big reason why Samuels has shifted around from position to position is his versatility. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, he has the physique to multi-task.
“He is the type of athlete and has got the body-type that we think we can use in a lot of different places,” Vanderbilt’s first-year coach James Franklin said. “He has done well [this spring]. He is a big, physical, athletic kid so he can play a lot of different positions. That is the same reason why we were able to play him running back last year, corner and wide receiver. He can do a lot of things.”
He jumped over to the offense last fall to help an injury depleted backfield. He was used sparingly but rushed for 43 yards on 10 carries. He also averaged 20.3 yards as a kickoff returner. But he made his biggest impact on defense, recording 27 tackles, with 15 being solo.
“I’m not trying to be cocky or anything but I feel like I have a little bit of everything,” Samuels said. “I got a little bit of speed, instincts. Transitioning from cornerback to safety, that helps. So I can come down and play tight ends. ... That makes it a little better too.”
Samuels, however, admits it hasn’t been an easy transition, one that has come with a lot of studying, especially since there is a new regime of coaches with new schemes.
Still, he is willing to hit the playbook if it means he’ll be able to sink his feet into some solid ground.
“It is just a whole bunch of new material we have to learn. It is just getting down the basic concepts. It is really simple, though. It is a lot simpler than last year,” he said. “I have to be in my playbook a lot more, on top of all my schoolwork, but I love the game of football so whatever to do get on the field and help my team out that is what I am going to do.”
• Vanderbilt’s practice at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium will be just one of two sessions open to the public this spring. The other will be on April 17, when the Commodores host the Black and Gold Spring Game.
• A full officiating crew was at practice for the first time this spring.
“We are just getting their input in terms of things we are doing well and things we need to improve on; making sure our hand placement on the offensive line is in the right place, our alignments and things like that,” Franklin said. “We are just trying to emphasize doing the right things in terms of penalties and that kind of stuff. We are going to try to get them out there as much as we possibly can. Obviously, they will be here for the scrimmage on Saturday.”
• Former Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson attended practice on Thursday. Johnson retired last July. His top assistant and offensive line coach, Robbie Caldwell, succeeded him and resigned at the conclusion of the season last fall.