Here’s the reality: while the Tigers’ talented sophomore will make his first collegiate start at safety, he’s perfectly comfortable – and perfectly capable – of success in that role.
Blanks grew up as a safety at Tallahassee, Fla.’s North Florida Christian School, and played his freshman season out of position at “Sam” linebacker and the nickel cornerback position, serving as a fifth defensive back.
Starting alongside junior Robert Smith at safety is a natural.
“I would say that I do (feel more comfortable),” Blanks said. “At the same time, it’s still football to me. I enjoyed playing nickel. I felt really comfortable at nickel, so I can’t say that I feel like an extreme amount more comfort at safety. It’s all football.”
Blanks started eight games last fall, rolling up 563 snaps while piling up 51 tackles, two for loss, and an interception with seven pass breakups. He was named a second-team freshman All-American by Scout.com.
Moving back to safety, however, gives him a different feel. Blanks sounds plenty comfortable playing in space.
“You’re further away from the ball, so the margin for error isn’t as small,” he said. “At nickel it was really small because I might be covering a guy man to man and have two yards in space. So if I make a mistake, I’m pretty much dead. It’s a little different at safety, playing 12-15 yards back.”
Georgia’s offense – led by All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray and talented tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall – will provide a stiff first test for Blanks and a revamped secondary.
“They’re definitely good players,” he said. “I respect them all, and that’s the way I’m going into this game. They’re one of the better offenses I’ve faced in my time at Clemson so far.”
With such talent concentrated in the backfield, will it affect how Blanks plays in run support?
“It all comes down to discipline,” he said. “Each player will have a key to read, and my key will be knowing what to do. It’s very important going into a game like this to just be disciplined.”
Beyond Blanks and Smith, the secondary’s depth chart remains unsettled, with senior Darius Robinson and juniors Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters all expected to see significant time at cornerback.
New secondary coach Mike Reed has emphasized putting bad plays behind and playing aggressively, but Blanks says his unit’s overall mentality hasn’t changed.
“The standard to play at Clemson remains the same no matter who the coach is, or who the players are,” he said. “Mentality hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is personnel.”
With a huge challenge less than five days away, Blanks is ready for his new/old position – and whatever comes next.
“I feel like we’ve prepared well,” he said. “We’ve prepared just as much as anyone else has. I don’t see us failing, because we’ve prepared well for this game. So time will tell. We’ll see Saturday. You can’t determine the future but I think we’re prepared.”