When Mark Fields intercepted Darius Wade’s pass late in the fourth quarter of No. 3 Clemson’s victory over Boston College last Friday, the sophomore peeked to his left to make sure he was not going to be tackled.
After he saw he was in the clear, it was smooth sailing to the end zone as he returned the interception 42 yards for a touchdown – his first of his Clemson career.
“When I caught it I was just making sure nobody was around to tackle me,” Fields said. “I did not want to be that guy that gets the interception and then gets tackled. So I just tucked the ball and ran … ran to the end zone because I wanted to score.”
It was a nice moment for the sophomore, who was greeted and congratulated by so many of teammates on his way back to the sideline he could not keep his balance. It’s been a long journey for Fields to get to this point in his career as he continues to improve and earn more opportunities to make plays.
Last year, Fields was strictly playing on special teams because he struggled to learn the game. His teammates and coaches blamed it on his lack of focus in meetings and in film study. However, those things have since improved and Fields is now showing signs of being the playmaker they thought he could be coming out of high school.
“I think he is better now than he has ever been. He is getting closer and closer,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
The signs of Fields’ improvement were all there in his 42-yard interception return, which Venables believes will only help his cornerback’s confidence going forward.
“Some of the details, there were some things that happened before the ball was even snapped and he did a good job of putting himself in that position. He executed the play and did it very well,” the Clemson coach said. “That was great for him and good for us moving forward. It helps him understand to buying in systematically to what we are doing.
“It is man-to-man there, it is zone concept. Understand the zone, align the correct way, put your eyes in the right place, execute, read and trust your read, all of it. Finish the play. He did a great job with that.”
Fields says he has worked hard to improve in all aspects of his game, from off-coverage to press-coverage and eye discipline.
“All of those things now are starting to show up when I play,” he said.
Sharing time with Marcus Edmond, Ryan Carter and Trayvon Mullen as well as backing up Cordrea Tankersley on the boundary has kept Fields locked into the game so when his number is called, he is ready to play.
“It helps keeps us focused and it helps keep us on our toes and be ready to play. This year, we have a lot more guys that are ready to play so whenever coach calls your number, you just have to go in there and ball out,” Fields said.
When Tankersley moves on to the NFL next year, Fields will be in line to take over that spot, though he knows he is still going to have to compete for that starting job. He says he likes playing the boundary because it is a little more physical and he has to come up and lend support in the run game. He doesn’t mind playing the field either because there is more space. The receivers are off the ball and the techniques are a little bit different.
“For the most part it is all the same,” Fields said. “I will just continue to give great effort in practice and get better out there and then everything will take care of itself out on the field. You just have to pay the price every day during the week.
“I’m just focused on doing what I can do to help my team win right now and we will worry about next year when next year gets here.”