By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
It’s not often a sophomore and a junior are consider leaders on any unit, but if you ask Clemson defensive backs coach Mike Reed, sophomore Travis Blanks and junior Robert Smith are the heart and soul of his secondary.
“That’s what you want, you want your older guys to take ownership of your group,” Reed said of his two safeties. “Now, I can actually do some coaching instead of doing discipline work.”
Blanks and Smith took ownership this summer by setting up a defense backs only workout called “Sacrifice Saturdays.”
“I feel like I’m a natural born leader,” Blanks said. “I naturally lead. I want to change the face of this secondary. It is not all about me, but I want to do everything in my power to make sure the secondary is not the weak link.”
Each Saturday over the summer Banks and Smith did their best to make sure that will not be the case. The two organized a skills-and-drills kind of workshop where all of the defensive backs came in and worked on getting better at the little things.
“It was an opportunity for us to get better,” said Blanks. “We really want to be great and we want to change the face of the secondary because there are a lot of people that say this is the weak link of the team.
“We want to change that persona and we want to change that image. That was an opportunity to take a chance and change that image of us.”
It seems to be working. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said earlier this week that there is no doubt in his mind that the secondary will be much improved, not just because of the influx of talent that has been brought in, but with the way the guys have done all the right things to get better.
“We have tons of potential, but potential means nothing if we don’t develop,” Blanks said. “Potential is not reality. A lot of people like to rave about the potential we have, but we have to put one foot in front of the other and go at it.
“This group can be great. We could have been great last year. Last year we had potential, but potential is not what counts. Performance counts. It is going to be vital that we put our potential on the field and perform.”
That potential should perform. Besides getting guys back like Bashaud Breeland, Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins, the Tigers also welcome in talent like Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson.
The competition in and of itself should make the group better and should help erase the memories of last year’s 25-plus completions of 20 yards or more.
“There is a lot of competition and competition makes guys better so it is healthy for our secondary to have guys coming in pushing us because it makes you come out and give everything you have every day,” Blanks said. “It is healthy.”