|by David Hood|
It’s not easy for someone who loves the game as much as he does.
"Being on the sidelines has been the hardest part of my career so far,’ Blanks told the media after Monday’s practice. “You go from a feeling of significance to a feeling of insignificance. That's tough for any player or person. It hurts, but yet there's opportunity there, too, through my situation and with the things I am still able to focus on."
Blanks tore his ACL during Clemson’s home victory against The Citadel in late November, and had to miss games against South Carolina and Ohio St. and will miss all of spring practice as he continues his rehabilitation. However, he says the injury has one small blessing – he gets to see the game from a different perspective.
"That's probably been the awesome part,” he said. “You get to see football from a different perspective. You get to see what the coaches see. I get to break down film more. I'm the eye in the sky like the coaches. I get to learn more about the game, me as a player and sharpen my mental game. That is something that I needed.”
Entering his freshman season in 2012, Clemson had veterans Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks at the safety position, with Robert Smith a capable backup. In an effort to get the young playmaker on the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables moved Blanks to the nickel spot, a place where Blanks flourished.
Last season, he moved to safety but never felt comfortable and made his share of mistakes, totaling just 35 tackles in 475 snaps.
"I just didn't feel like I cut it loose," he said. "I think I was so concerned with making a mistake. My freshman year, I cut it loose. I didn't care about making mistakes. Last year there was something in me that just wasn't cutting it loose."
Freshman Jayron Kearse performed admirably in Blanks’ absence, and with Smith back to man one safety spot, the coaches decided prior to the start of spring to move Blanks back to nickel, where he logged 51 tackles as a freshman.
Blanks said he spoke with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, Venables and defensive backs coach Mike Reed about the move.
“I talked to all three of them. We had long conversations about it,” Blanks said. “They just felt like I could thrive better at the nickel position. I just took it and ran with it.”
Blanks said he embraced the move.
"I love it. If my ability is better suited there, I'm willing to do it," he said. "I feel like I can thrive better here with the personnel we have. I've just taken it and run with it. I feel like I can do great things there. But I feel like I can play safety if they need me to, and I can play nickel.”
The rising junior has added a few pounds to his 6-1 frame – he’s up to 210 – but said he will wait until August to see if that is where he stays.
"It's not set in stone, it's not concrete. It's something we'll have to find out," he said. "We're feeling our way through the process now. I feel pretty good now. If I got to where I wasn't fluid, I'd have to get down to where I needed to be."
Blanks said he will be fully cleared to practice by August, giving him a goal to work toward while he endures the long, lonely days of rehab.
“Super long, man. Super long,” Blanks said of the process. “You start early in the morning, it's rehab, rehab, rehab, then lift, then practice. It's a tough process, more challenging mentally. Definitely by August I'll be good to go. Definitely.”
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org