The last thing Travis Blanks wanted, or expected, was to take a mid-career detour to the football equivalent of pit row.
Sitting on the sidelines is no better than he imagined it would be; but that doesn't mean he's wasting his time, spinning his wheels, as he rehabs an ACL injury that's keeping him out of uniform this spring.
"This is the hardest part of my college career so far - over any workout or early morning," said Blanks recently. "You go from a feeling of significance to a feeling of insignificance. I think that's a tough thing for anybody.
"From the position I was in to where I am now - watching everybody else get better - it hurts. But there's opportunity in my situation, as well. That's what I'm concentrating on."
Blanks said that standing on the sideline observing drills or spending extra time in film study has broadened his perspective.
"The awesome part is that I get to see what the coaches see," Blanks said. "I see things I didn't get to see when I was on the field. I get to break down film more, and I'm more of an eye-in-the-sky, like the coaches are.
"I get to learn more about the game and myself as a player, and I get to sharpen my mental game - and that's something that's well-needed."
To hear Blanks tell it, his career took its first detour last season while he was on the field.
The Tallahassee, Fla. native made an immediate impact as a first-year freshman when he earned Freshman All-America honors as the Tigers' primary nickel back - a position he shared with 'sam' linebacker Quandon Christian.
After the loss of Jonathan Meeks, Rashard Hall and Xavier Brewer, he moved to safety last season, where he started alongside Robert Smith.
Somehow, the move never felt quite right.
While he was able to use his instincts and ability to play full-speed at nickel, Blanks found himself perhaps over-thinking his new position.
"I just didn't feel like I ever really cut it loose," Blanks said. "I was too concerned about making mistakes. My freshman year, I just cut it loose and played, and wasn't worried when I made mistakes.
"Last fall I didn't do that, and I feel like I left a lot of opportunity out there."
When Blanks gets back on the field in August, the plan is for him to return to the nickel/sam position, where he'll compete with sophomores Korrin Wiggins and T.J. Burrell, and redshirt freshman Dorian O'Daniel.
The coaches are hoping to mix and match versatile players at the position, rather than subbing in and out strictly based on run/pass situations.
"I've talked to Coach (Dabo) Swinney, Coach (Brent) Venables and Coach (Mike) Reed about it, and they feel that with the personnel that we have, I can be better at the nickel position," Blanks said. "I'm going to take that and run with it."
Blanks, who's currently at 211 pounds, says he hopes to play at about 220 if he can maintain his speed and agility.
"I'm gradually progressing, getting bigger and stronger," he said. "At 210-211, I'm getting back to moving now. If I get to 220 and feel like I'm not fluid in my movements, I can always drop back down. We're just sort of feeling our way through the process right now."
Blanks says his rehab is on schedule, and that he hopes to be able to 'cut it loose' sometime this summer, and certainly by fall camp.
"Seeing how quickly Chad (Kelly) and Sam (Cooper) recovered is a source of encouragement and optimism for me," said Blanks. "I think the most important thing in coming back from an injury like this is to have a positive attitude."
Follow Kerry Capps on Twitter @oandwkc