Travis Blanks, D.J. Reader, Bradley Pinion top contributors among 1st-year freshmen

Seven of youngest Tigers got an early opportunity to make an impact

Clemson punter Bradley Pinion tackles North Carolina State's Tobais Palmer during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson punter Bradley Pinion tackles North Carolina State's Tobais Palmer during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

In many cases, it takes more than a year to pass judgment on a coaching staff's decision to play or redshirt a first-year freshman.

There are rules of thumb, but always extenuating circumstances having to do with injuries, fear of injuries and overall depth at each position.

Following a brief review of the first-team freshmen players who saw action for the Tigers this fall:

Isaiah Battle, 6-7, 265, OL, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Battle saw action in four games for a total of 80 snaps, mostly seeing late-game duty.

Travis Blanks, 6-1, 195, Safety, Tallahassee, Fla.: The highest rated played in Clemson's 2012 recruiting class, Blanks did not disappoint. He played in all 12 games, started eight at nickel back, and played 547 snaps. He ranked seventh on the team in tackles with 51, and earned Freshman All-America honors. Blanks, who shared the 'Sam'/Nickel spot with Quandon Christian this season, will move to safety for his sophomore season.

Zac Brooks, 6-2, 180, RB, Jonesboro, Ark: The jury's still out on the decision to play Brooks as a freshman. He filled the spot that would have been Mike Bellamy's in a four-man crew at running back, but ended up playing in just five games from scrimmage, for 65 snaps. He also contributed on special teams.

Kevin Dodd, 6-5, 275, DE, Greer, S.C.: After spending most of the first half of the season on the sidelines, Dodd worked his way the back-up mix behind Malliciah Goodman. He ended up playing in seven games, for a total of 85 snaps, and made six tackles.

Bradley Pinion, 6-5, 220, P-KO, Concord, N.C.: One of the nation's top-rated punters out of high school, Pinion pushed Spencer Benton for the starting spot from the first day of practice and earned his shot at contributing as a freshman. He punted nine times for a 39.4 average, and had touchbacks on 18 of his 26 kickoffs.

D.J. Reader, 6-3, 305, DT, Greensboro, N.C.: With his performance against Auburn in the opening game of the season, Reader made himself an integral part of Clemson's interior defensive line rotation. He played in all 12 games for a total of 229 snaps, and had 37 tackles and three quarterback-pressures.

Carlos Watkins, 6-4, 275, DT, Mooresboro, N.C.: Reader's fast start meant fewer opportunities early in the season for Watkins, who ended up playing in eight games for a total of 110 snaps. He made 16 tackles and had one tackle for loss.

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