CLEMSON — Nickel back. Safety. Linebacker.
Wherever you tell Travis Blanks to go, that’s where he’ll be – without complaint.
“I told coach (Brent) Venables it’s all the same to me,” Clemson’s versatile freshman defender said this week. “I just feel at (any position) you have to tackle, fight off blocks and cover guys. It’s all the same to me.”
Blanks has fit in well no matter where he has lined up this season. As No.14 Clemson (5-1, 2-1 ACC) prepares for Saturday’s noon visit from Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1), the Tallahassee, Fla., native has acquitted himself nicely to college football. He has 32 tackles – tied for third on Clemson’s roster – and figures to be a major fixture on the Tigers’ defense going forward.
“I’m not surprised,” Blanks said. “Coming in, I expected a lot out of myself. People tell me and coach V always tells me how hard I am on myself. I have a high expectancy out of myself. I expect to do things at a high level. So I’m not surprised I’m contributing to my team and I can help them out.”
Blanks was highly prized during the recruiting process as a defensive back, but with three senior safeties – Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks – he fit in better initially at “Sam” linebacker, which serves as a nickel, or fifth, defensive back in Venables’ scheme.
He has split time with junior Quandon Christian, starting three games there while rolling up 19 tackles against Ball State, Furman and hometown Florida State.
The secondary’s lack of depth has forced Brewer to play more corner, and both Hall and Meeks have struggled with pursuit angles and tackling.
Those factors pushed Blanks into the mix at safety, where he started against Georgia Tech, making six tackles in 38 snaps. Paul Johnson’s flexbone can be a difficult assignment for a senior, much less a freshman, and Blanks’ play was uneven, although Venables praised it.
“I don’t think I did too well,” Blanks said. “I got all my reads, everything looked well. But that was my first game back playing safety. It’s a changeup for me, getting back in the routine of playing. I felt good. There are a few things I have to fine-tune, but I felt great.”
His long-term home is at safety, but Blanks says he’s comfortable moving back and forth between safety and nickel as situations warrant.
Such versatility, Venables says, is uncommon for a freshman.
“I wish we didn’t have to float him, but he gives us quality depth at a couple of positions,” he said of Blanks. “Ideally your football team is built that way, without having to play guys at multiple positions. In fairness to him, it would typically happen with an older guy. But we feel like he gives us the best options with what he’s doing at safety and nickel versus the spread.”
Then again, Blanks isn’t a typical freshman, either; he has wowed coaches with his maturity since arriving in January and going through spring practice as an early enrollee.
“He’s a smart guy, instinctual,” Venables said. “He knows where he’s at, what he’s doing, he’s a good tackler, a good space player. So he’s a guy that very seldom makes the same mistake twice. Things aren’t always going to be perfect, but you’d like to be able to correct things, whether it’s on the sideline, or week to week and get better from mistakes. He’s a guy that’s shown he’ll do just that.”
Wherever you need him.
“I’m not a selfish guy. The team needs me at the position I’m playing,” he said. “I just look at it and take an opportunity and go with it.”