Tampa Bay Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels sits at his office desk inside Amalie Arena on Thursday, his attention focused on his iPhone while a highlight film from a potential acquisition runs.
On the white, dry-erase boards lining the office walls, Samuels has drawn up random plays. Some were used infrequently last year but Samuels wants them to be more a part of the game plan this season. Others are plays Samuels noticed while watching film and wants to incorporate into his playbook.
On the video highlight, the player in question is a defensive back from one of the minor league arena football teams.
“I get a lot of guys from social media, twitter, facebook that send me film,” Samuels said. “Agents will reach out to me, e-mail me. But (the film) is always there.”
As Samuels talks, the cornerback on the film jumps a route and intercepts a pass, running it back for a pick-six touchdown.
“I don’t really look at the play. I look at how the play was made. You look at his back pedal, you look at his break, if he’s coming out of his break well,” said Samuels, a former two-way standout for the Storm who finished his Arena Football League career with 1,032 receptions, 169 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. “Everybody looks at the ball and whether the player made an interception. When you evaluate talent, you look at what the guy does well, if his technique is good and all those little bitty things that people don’t see.”
Since the free agency period opened September 25, Samuels has been focused on trying to acquire the foundation of the team while also upgrading at certain positions. That means continuously looking at film, meeting with staff to discuss talent and reaching out to potential acquisitions.
“It really never stops. It’s a continuous building process,” Samuels said. “These first couple of months, we’re very active. We’re not in a fast pace because there’s so many guys out there and you don’t want to overlook anybody. Once we get a guy or we know of a guy, we really want to add him to our team, especially if we feel it’s an upgrade, we’re definitely going to go after those type of guys in the free agency process. We try not to lose our guys.”
Samuels estimated he has about 55-60% of the roster complete. The team will host a tryout November 16 at Amalie Arena to evaluate local talent in the hopes of finding more players that can help the Storm win an ArenaBowl championship in 2015.
“We get guys that are local in our area and then we’ll also have guys from other places and other states that want to come down to our tryout,” said Samuels, who was a member of the AFL’s Hall of Fame Class of 2013. “Those tryouts bring in a lot of talent.”
While evaluating, Samuels also notices the players other AFL teams acquire so he can continue to game plan for future opponents. That also is an ongoing process throughout the offseason.
“We’re always watching. You never stop,” Samuels said. “You’re looking at who the other people are acquiring too. You kind of game plan against that. We’re familiar with other coaches in our league and what they like to do and what they’re doing. We’re all familiar with each other.”
During the first week of free agency, the Storm signed a pair of quarterbacks, former Orlando Predators signal caller Jason Boltus as well as AFL rookie Luke Collis. Since then, the Storm have focused on offensive linemen and wide receivers. The team announced the return of T.T. Toliver, who ranks fifth all-time in the AFL for receptions (977) and receiving yards (12,655), and the acquisitions of receivers Jarvis Williams from the San Jose SaberCats and Julius Gregory, playing his first year in the AFL.
In the trenches, the Storm have added Lakeland native and AFL rookie Ricky Barnum and former Chicago Bears lineman Cory Brandon. The team also retained 2014 standout Marion Henderson.