Kearse has big opportunity

Kearse has big opportunity

CLEMSON – When Travis Blanks crumpled to the floor of the Carrier Dome following a punt return Saturday afternoon, Clemson's coaches knew they needed a replacement.

Blanks was hurt and coming out of the game – at least for a play – so they called for backup safety Jayron Kearse to get on the field. He was already there.

"I was pretty anxious to get on the field," Kearse said this week. "I'd played already before (Blanks) got hurt. And then I was on the sideline, I seen him laying on the field, they were looking me to call me but I'd already run on the field."

Kearse is eager to contribute, and his hurry-up attitude is paying dividends as the 2013 season nears its halfway point. The talented freshman athlete made his first career interception in the game's waning moments, and could be in line for his first career start this week if Blanks' knee injury sits him down.

That's exactly what Kearse had in mind when he picked Clemson. Rated by Scout.com as the nation's No.7 athlete prospect coming out of South Fort Myers (Fla.) High School – the same alma mater as star wideout Sammy Watkins – Kearse leaned on his NFL family connections.

His uncle, Jevon Kearse, was a standout NFL defensive end and three-time Pro Bowler during a 10-year career with the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles. His cousin, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, was a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders and also played with the Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneeers, Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins in a 10-year NFL career. Jayron said both told him to pick the place "I feel more comfortable at."

"Where I can go and show my talent as soon as I can," he said. "Going somewhere I can make an instant impact."

That somewhere was Clemson, which has very thin safety depth. Blanks and junior Robert Smith made their first career starts at the position in the season opener against Georgia, and freshmen like Kearse, Jadar Johnson and Ronald Geohaghan provided the depth.

In other words, playing time was a realistic goal. Still, sitting behind a freshman All-American like Blanks hasn't been easy.

"My biggest adjustment has probably been the speed of the game and probably being a backup," he said. "In high school I was the star and now coming back it's a humbling experience being a backup, playing behind someone else, you're not getting the playing time you did in high school. I've been dealing with it pretty well just waiting for my number to be called, being able to perform when my number is called."

Kearse said he had prepared each week like he would be the starter, so the sudden move into the lineup at Syracuse wasn't that big of a deal. He had 44 snaps in the first four games combined, but took 75 in the Carrier Dome, making eight tackles with the interception.

"It felt pretty good," he said. "I prepared every week like I was the starter. When I got out there, it was just like I'd started the whole entire game. It wasn't too much different except for me adjusting to the game. Previous games, I'd gotten in at safety. I just had to adjust after that first drive. It was pretty good after that first one."

The interception, he said, was a real highlight. "It was real good," he said. "I was real excited, hopefully that's a good sign for me of more to come. I'm just going to stay humble and keep doing what I'm doing, just preparing."

At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Kearse has a unique build for a safety. He thinks his height is a big advantage. He models himself after Seattle Seahawks and former Virginia Tech safety Kam Chancellor, a 6-3 safety who made his first Pro Bowl following the 2012 season.

"It's my range," he said. "I'm a big guy that can move real well, that's going to help me back there deep. I can move from hash to hash and cover a lot of ground when the ball is in the air. I make quarterbacks make a precise throw or I'm going to make a play on the ball."

Kearse will start this week against Boston College.

"He has a chance to be a really good player in time," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "He's a young player who needs to continue to add strength and all those kind of things. He's not afraid. He's not timid from a contact standpoint. He's got good instincts and range. His best football is ahead of him."

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