CLEMSON — Ask Jonathan Meeks about plays he’d like to have back from last season, and he grins.
“Where do you want to start?” he said. “There’s a lot of them.”
Meeks will readily admit his junior season didn’t live up to expectations. Tabbed as a potential breakout candidate, the hard-hitting safety struggled at times, starting 10 games but suffering a late-season benching.
He finished with 61 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups, but the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brent Venables might be just the antidote Meeks needed.
“I played OK,” he said of 2011. “It wasn’t the best I can do. That’s why, this offseason and spring, I gave it all I’ve got. It’s my last go-round, and I want to show everyone what I can do.”
Meeks is battling fellow seniors Xavier Brewer and Rashard Hall for playing time, and says he’s entirely comfortable doing so.
“It’s good,” he said. “We’re all competing for spots. Nobody’s really got spots right now. We’re all fighting hard, which will all make us work hard and ultimately become better players. We won’t have a dropoff either way it goes.”
A year ago, he and other players looked out of sorts in Kevin Steele’s pro-style defense. Common logic suggested that they didn’t understand the scheme, but Meeks suggests the exact opposite.
“We got comfortable within the scheme so we took a lot more risks last year,” he said. “This year we’re taking it slow, not forcing anything, letting the play coming to us.”
A year ago, Meeks started every game in Clemson’s 8-0 start, playing at least 51 snaps in each game. Then, his playing time took a sharp drop. Over the next two games – a loss at Georgia Tech and a win over Wake Forest – he played 27 snaps combined, with Brewer starting alongside Hall at safety.
He rebounded to play 44 snaps against N.C. State and 54 against South Carolina, then started the ACC title game and the Orange Bowl, playing a career-high 80 snaps in the Tigers’ 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
Meeks places the blame squarely on his own shoulders.
“It was more so what I was doing,” he said. “Steele was going to put the best player on the field, and at the time I wasn’t the best player. That’s why I was more focused this spring and summer to become the best player.”
Venables’ schemes gave him confidence to play faster, which he says is crucial.
“If you mess up, the game isn’t over,” Meeks said. “Don’t get down on yourself.”
This spring, he also worked on foot quickness and lateral movement, both of which he feels can help his overall game.
“I want to be a better returner with the ball after an interception,” he said. “Or if someone tries to juke me or shake me as a running back, I’ll have the hips and lateral quickness not to get juked.”
As he enters his final season of college football, Meeks still has plenty of potential.
An even keel, he says, is a crucial component to success.
“I had a lot of good plays, too,” he said. “You’re never as bad as you think you are, you’re never as good as you think you are. I’ve got to stay humble, focused and keep working.”