On Saturday at Florida State, sophomore cornerback Mark Fields saw the field more than he ever has as at Clemson.
After fellow corner Marcus Edmond suffered a toe injury late in the first half that sidelined him for the rest of the game, Fields played the entire second half and ended up playing a career-high 55 snaps.
For the most part, Fields took advantage of his opportunity. Aside from committing a couple of pass interference penalties, he consistently played tight coverage and didn’t allow a completed pass against him.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday that Fields has put himself in position to compete with Edmond for the starting cornerback spot opposite Cordrea Tankersley.
“He’s doing some good things at corner,” Swinney said. “He just has to continue to buy in and improve and be disciplined with his technique and be consistent with his effort and practice habits, and those type of things. I think the rest will take care of itself because he’s got the talent, no doubt about it.”
After totaling 78 snaps as a freshman in 2015, Fields has totaled 199 snaps through eight games this season while tallying five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception that he returned for a touchdown at Boston College.
More impressive, though, is that according to Pro Football Focus College Football, Fields has recorded 107 coverage snaps this year and allowed a 0.0 passer rating on passes thrown into his coverage.
If a college quarterback threw an incompletion on every pass, they would have a passer rating of 39.6, according to PFF.
“Mark’s been doing well,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s getting better.”
For Fields, there’s no question about his talent or ability to stay with receivers.
It’s his technique that needs more work, Venables said.
“He’s got to learn to turn his head and play the ball a little sooner,” Venables said, “but he’s been doing well. He’s making that inch-by-inch movement, getting better.”
Venables said some players, like freshman corner Trayvon Mullen, arrive at Clemson with instinctive and natural ball skills, while others have to develop it through repetitions.
Fields is the latter, and his technique is a work in progress, but Venables believes he will continue to improve in that area.
“Some guys day one, they have such good feel and instincts and natural movement to them,” Venables said. “And some guys can get really good at it, too, but I think that’s part of getting your head back around and the timing and the confidence and the poise and the patience. That’s a big part of it.”
It’s not just Fields, though.
Clemson’s secondary as a whole was vulnerable against Florida State’s fast and talented receivers, giving up chunk plays through the air and committing seven pass interference penalties, and Venables attributed those mistakes to lapses in technique.
“We’ve got to clean up our technique, and that starts in practice,” Venables said following the game. “You have to stress yourself and hold yourself accountable, quit whining and complaining. … We’ve got to be better. When we’re in phase and in position, we’ve got to get our head around. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching and correcting them, and they’ve got to do a better job.
“Syracuse is going to throw the ball all over the lot, so we’re better than that, but this game is about fundamentals and technique, and we can’t leave those at the front door. We’ve got to bring those with us every week.”