Depth chart, in-depth 2013: Behind Blanks, Smith, things get thin in a hurry at safety

Walk-on Taylor Watson, first-year freshmen being counted on for immediate contributions

Travis Blanks chases Wake's Josh Harris in the first half

Photo by Mark Crammer

Travis Blanks chases Wake's Josh Harris in the first half

Depth Chart, In-Depth: Safety

First Up: Rising true sophomore Travis Blanks (6-1, 190, Tallahassee, Fla.) will move into the starting free safety position, where he'll be counted on as a three-down centerfielder. Rising junior Robert Smith (5-11, 210, Saint George, S.C.) has taken over the strong safety spot.

Blanks was an impact player as a first-year freshman, primarily playing the hybrid nickelback/linebacker role against pass-oriented opponents and earning second-team Freshman All-America honors. He started eight games and had 51 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception and seven PBUs. He moved to free safety in preparation for the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December, and then solidified his starting spot during the spring.

Smith has spent the last two seasons in a reserve role behind Jonathan Meeks, Rashard Hall and Xavier Brewer, and, according to Dabo Swinney, "has just been waiting for those guys to get out of here."

A prolifically productive quarterback at Woodland High (11,318 total yards and 124 touchdowns), he's played in 27 games for a total of 163 snaps over the past two years, while serving as a regular on special teams. He made one start and intercepted one pass as a freshman.

Next In Line: Things got thin in a hurry for the Tigers during spring drills, with rising junior walk-on Taylor Watson (5-11, 205, Simpsonville, S.C.) and first-semester freshman Jadar Johnson (6-1, 180, Orangeburg, S.C.) grabbing the backup spots headed into fall camp.

Johnson fought through an elbow injury had a productive first spring. He was rated as one of the top 30 safeties in the nation out of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High, and was a Shrine Bowl selection.

Watson earned playing time last season as a regular on the Tigers' special teams. He also logged 27 snaps in 12 games last fall, and had seven tackles. He's a civil engineering major and the son of four-year Clemson letterman Ronald Watson. His brother, also Ronald, lettered for the Tigers as a running back in 2009.

In The Pipeline: Clemson's eight-man class of freshman defensive backs includes several players who'll get a shot at earning backup roles behind Blanks and Smith. Jayron Kearse (6-4, 205, Fort Myers, Fla.) earned area defensive player of the year honors at South Fort Myers High, where he was rated the No. 7 outside linebacker in the nation by Scout. He starred on both sides of the ball, playing quarterback and wide receiver on offense, and was also an outstanding kick returner.

Cordrea Tankersley (6-1, 190, Aiken, S.C.) comes into the program with a season of prep school experience. At Silver Bluff High, he earned Shrine Bowl honors and was ranked among the top 20 safeties in the nation by MaxPreps.

Marcus Edmond (6-1, 180, Hopkins, S.C.) was rated as the No. 12 player in South Carolina by Rivals. As a senior quarterback at Lower Richland High, he accounted for 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, and had 48 tackles and four interceptions on defense. He was the South Carolina state track champion in the 400 meters.

Other incoming defensive backs initially designated as cornerbacks include Mackensie Alexander (5-11, 185, Immokalee, Fla.), Adrian Baker (6-1, 170, Hollywood, Fla.), Ryan Carter (5-10, 175, Loganville, Ga.) and Korrin Wiggins (6-1, 185, Durham, N.C.).

More Help On the Way: The Tigers have yet to add a defensive back prospect for the Class of 2014.

Overall Outlook: Plenty of young talent, but a potential trouble spot. Asked about his top area of concern coming out of spring practice, Dabo Swinney pointed to the safety spots, and then went on to rave about the performance of Travis Blanks and Robert Smith in their starting roles. Swinney knows, however, that the Tigers are a turned ankle away from starting either a walk-on or a true freshman at both the safety positions. The group of incoming defensive backs will be fast-tracked early, and decisions made about which players are most field-ready for the 2013 season. Johnson has a jump on his classmates, while Kearse stands out with his combination of size and speed. Tankersley, meanwhile, is eager to get on the field after taking a prep school detour since he originally signed with the Tigers.

Swinney projects that about half of the group of freshman DBs will play this fall, and half will redshirt. The evolving depth situation at the two safety positions will be one of the most closely-watched storylines once preseason camp begins.

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