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Patriots low-key cornerback making noise with big plays

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You won't see Asante Samuel talking trash to an opposing wide receiver. You won't see him celebrating a routine tackle. And very rarely will you hear him boasting in the locker room after a well-played game.

While many cornerbacks in the National Football League are brash and outspoken, Samuel takes a business-like approach to his job on the field, and lets his big hits and timely interceptions do the talking for him.

Samuel has worked his way from a spot contributor and special teams player to the team's starting right cornerback and one of its most dangerous defensive players.

"He's one of the best corners in the league," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "I keep saying it, but no one's listening. I think he's making everyone pay attention now."

Veteran linebacker Tedy Bruschi recognized the potential of the University of Central Florida product when the Patriots selected Samuel in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft.

"I think he's one of those guys, the minute he came in here we recognized him as a guy that was always getting his hands on balls, whether it's batting down balls or intercepting them," Bruschi said. "Seriously, since Day One he's been that type of player, and I think the opportunities are presenting themselves to him in the game now and he's taking advantage of them and all of a sudden he has to be looked at as a shutdown corner."

Already this season, Samuel has matched his career high for interceptions in a season, and has set new single-game marks for solo tackles, passes defensed and interceptions.

"In the offseason, I just focus on the things that I need to do to get better," said the soft-spoken Samuel. "I work on catching the ball and hit the weight room to increase my body strength so I become a stronger tackler and can make more plays."

According to Harrison, Samuel's success has also been a product of mental preparation in the offseason as well as the natural progression of a young player.

"You can just look at his film study, maturation and how he's grown up," Harrison said. "He's really in tune with his body and taking care of himself and really just taking his game to the next level. We all knew Asante had the ability physically, but you would doubt it mentally sometimes because as a young guy you can be so inconsistent. I think he's really found himself and taken his game to the next level.

He had a great offseason. He went home and worked out and when he came back he was bigger, faster and stronger. Mentally, he has grown up. You can just tell. It's paying off."

Samuel is quick to agree that increased film study and preparation has been a key to his quick start.

"The more you study, the more you have a feel for the game," he explained. "It's going to help you see things before it comes on the field."

That approach came to fruition two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills when Samuel recognized a route he had seen on film and stepped in front of wide receiver Lee Evans to intercept a JP Losman pass in the second quarter of the Patriots' 28-6 victory. Following the game, when asked about the play, Samuel responded, "It was one of those plays that you see in the film room and you hope it happens and it happened."

In order to take his game to that next level, Samuel also isn't afraid to apply unordinary training methods. The Florida native, who was looking to develop his hand-eye coordination last summer, began playing catch with mini, child-size footballs.

"It makes you see the ball more and it really keeps your attention on catching it," he said.

The drill has helped him improve his concentration, and the results have shown this season.

Samuel's three interceptions are tied for fourth in the NFL behind only the Falcons' DeAngelo Hall, the Browns' Sean Jones and the Jaguars' Rashean Mathis, who have each hauled in four interceptions.

Though he has raised the level of his game in 2006, Samuel's big-play ability has never been in question.

Last postseason against Jacksonville, Samuel picked off a pass from Byron Leftwich and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. It was the third interception return for a touchdown in his career. Entering this year, he had scored a touchdown in each of his first three seasons. For his career, he has 11 interceptions in 59 games for the Patriots.

Samuel credits his success to instincts and athleticism honed as a standout all-around athlete at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. He played quarterback, defensive back, place kicker and punter for the football team in addition to playing on the baseball and basketball squads.

"Playing corner is about having instincts," he explained. "Playing some of the sports that I did when I was younger has also helped me with my athleticism and allowed me to be versatile with what I am able to do on the field."

Samuel's emergence can also be credited to the challenge that he and the Patriots defensive backfield faced last year after losing Harrison to a season-ending knee injury. With their veteran leader on the sidelines, Samuel stepped up to help guide the young and inexperienced group.

"Not having Rodney out there was a big blow to our team," he said. "But each guy in the secondary really did their part to help the team when he was injured. We all had to take on a little more responsibility without him, and now that he's back we're a better unit for it."

This year, Samuel has also had to adjust to a switch from left cornerback to right, where he is now on the same side as All-Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour. With teams usually running away from Seymour's side, it would have been understandable to see Samuel's tackle totals decrease. Yet, with 28 tackles, he is on pace to set a career-high in that department as well, which is a tribute to his ability to always be around the ball.

Nonetheless, Samuel says his success will never go to his head or change his approach.

"I'm a low key guy and I don't really want the spotlight," he said. "I'd rather just go out there and do my job."

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