ACC: Travis Blanks

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...
Two teams left in our series looking at the strongest and weakest positions on each team in the ACC. Up today: Clemson.

Strongest position: Quarterback.

Tajh Boyd has become the face of this program and is getting some early preseason Heisman buzz. Expectations are high for Boyd to build on two already incredibly solid seasons with the Tigers. Last season, Boyd was the ACC Most Valuable Player after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and accounting for 46 touchdowns rushing and passing -- one less than 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Huge numbers, but many believe he can do more. Rather than shy away from the heightened expectations, Boyd has embraced them. He wants to be the best quarterback in America. To do that, he has to cut down on the turnovers and make better decisions, two big areas of focus this offseason. As for depth, Clemson does return backup Cole Stoudt, though the team took a big hit this spring when it lost Chad Kelly to a torn ACL.

Weakest position: Secondary.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has talked repeatedly about the state of his secondary. Clemson does return some experienced players, but the Tigers need to find some playmakers at the cornerback position. Depth also remains a concern, as the Tigers are going to have to rely on some true freshmen to contribute immediately. Having said that, safety Travis Blanks is a star in the making. He will start at safety this year and has the potential to be one of the better players at that position in the league. Others with experience include Bashaud Breeland, Garry Peters, Darius Robinson, Martin Jenkins and Robert Smith. Jenkins, Robinson and Breeland couldn't stay healthy a year ago; Peters has spent time in coach Dabo Swinney's doghouse. Hopes are high that highly heralded recruit Mackensie Alexander can be one of the young contributors.

For more on the series, click here.

Clemson Tigers spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (Atlantic Division co-champs)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:

QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, T Brandon Thomas, WR Charone Peake, WR Martavis Bryant, DE Vic Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, LB Stephone Anthony, S Travis Blanks, LB Spencer Shuey; K Chandler Catanzaro

Key losses:

WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Andre Ellington, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, WR Jaron Brown, DE Malliciah Goodman, CB Xavier Brewer, CB Rashard Hall, SS Jonathan Meeks, LB Tig Willard, P Spencer Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ellington (1,081 yards)
Passing: Boyd* (3,896 yards)
Receiving: Hopkins (1,405 yards)
Tackles: Willard (95)
Sacks: Beasley* (8)
Interceptions: Hall (4)

Spring answers

1. Freshman phenom at tight end: Jordan Leggett enrolled in January, and not a moment too soon. Sam Cooper tore his ACL, an injury that opened the door for Leggett, who had a fantastic spring. He had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he was impressive in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to get there by the opener against Georgia.

2. Beasley’s a beast. He led the team with eight sacks last year, but really showed consistency in the spring. Twice had interceptions of Boyd where he made athletic plays, and he had 10 sacks in the three scrimmages. Clemson is in need of a big-play guy on defense, and Beasley could be it.

3. Solid behind Boyd. Clemson has found a No. 2 quarterback in Cole Stoudt, who threw for 304 yards in the first half of the Tigers’ spring game. He hardly played in the second half. The depth of the position took a hit when Chad Kelly was injured, but now the backup quarterback question has an answer.

Fall questions

1. Unsettled secondary. The cornerback position is a particular area of concern, but with eight true freshmen joining the team this August, the entire group could look different this summer. It wouldn’t be surprising to see at least four of those rookies earn playing time this fall, especially prized recruit Mackensie Alexander, who was the program’s highest-rated signee since former defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

2. Center of attention: The Tigers will miss Dalton Freeman, who started 49 straight games at center. Ryan Norton is the new starter, but there’s no replacing the experience Freeman had with making all of the blocking calls and the chemistry he developed with Boyd.

3. Spotlight on Sammy: Watkins is moving to Hopkins’ old position, and all eyes will be watching to see if he looks like the same player who caught the nation’s attention as a true freshman in 2011. So far, so good. Watkins had 156 receiving yards in the spring game and looked like old Sammy.
For Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the formula for producing a national championship-caliber defense isn’t all that perplexing.

The two things his group needs to do, he said, is consistently put pressure on quarterbacks and develop some consistent playmakers at the corner position.

“That’s a position that is a big concern for us,” Venables said. “I don’t think we need anybody to be superman, but we need some guys to really emerge from a playmaking standpoint and playing at a consistent level. I think we have a chance to have a terrific defense, but without either one of those things coming to fruition, it will be tough. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to rush the passer, and you can’t give up big plays. Those two things are staples of a good defense.”

This spring, Clemson only has half of the equation, as it waits for more help in the secondary from the 2013 recruiting class.

Clemson’s offense gets all of the ink, while the defense has earned the label as the missing piece to the program’s hopes for a national title this season. If the Tigers can continue to build upon the success they finished 2012 with, the group has a chance to knock off Georgia in the season opener and become a legitimate title contender. So far, Venables said he has liked what he has seen from the defensive line in spring practices, but the corner position remains a question because there is so much youth and inexperience there.

“We’re really young,” Venables said. “We’re relying on some guys that haven’t played much there. We signed eight DBs in the last class. We’re going to have to play half of them, find out who’s ready to play, and the other half will redshirt. We’re very thin there in the first place.”

The secondary will be led by returning starter Travis Blanks, who played outside linebacker and as a fifth defensive back much of last season. He is expected to play safety this fall. Bashaud Breeland and Garry Peters are two more returning secondary players who had significant experience last year. Breeland played in 10 games and started five before missing the last two games with an injury. He had 32 tackles for the season. Peters saw more playing time in the second half of the season and finished with 20 tackles and eight passes broken up, including two important deflections in the win over LSU.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl was a highlight for the Clemson defense, as it finished the season 22nd in the nation in sacks, including a season-high six in the bowl game against LSU. Clemson held LSU to just 219 yards and nine first downs, and forced eight three-and-outs.

The question now is whether or not Clemson can build upon that.

“Someone has to emerge -- it doesn’t have to be one guy -- but when you can have a consistent pass rush with your four and a playmaker there, you saw that in the LSU game, where their six or seven can’t block our four,” Venables said. “When you can do that, it gives you a lot more flexibility on defense, creating that pressure. In the first half of the year we were God-awful at getting to the quarterback. In the second half, we doubled our sack total and tackles for loss and negative plays. That disrupts the flow of an offense.”

It will have to do it on a more consistent basis in order to become elite.
Heather dazzled you all earlier today with her five bold predictions for 2013.

So that got us thinking -- how did I do with my 2012 ACC preseason predictions? If I played baseball, I would win the hitting crown! But this is football, so ... see for yourself.

1. Florida State will win the ACC. Ding-ding! Florida State was the preseason favorite to win the league, so it's not as if I went out on a limb here. But I still get credit, especially since the Noles have had a history of failing to live up to preseason expectations.

2. The ACC will win its BCS game. 2-for-2! On a roll!

3. Travis Blanks will be freshman of the year. Did I write Travis Blanks? Ha ha, silly me! I meant Miami running back Duke Johnson! Blanks did play as a true freshman, starting eight games and finishing with 51 tackles for Clemson. But Johnson was dynamic with 2,070 all-purpose yards.

4. Maryland will be better this year. I was looking really smart with this prediction when the Terps were sitting 4-2. But then they were forced to go with their 105th string quarterback and the season went downhill. Still, four wins are better than two wins, so count this for AA!

5. Miami will be better than expected. Boom! Miami was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal in the preseason. Instead, the Canes finished at the top of the division and would have gone to the ACC title game had they not self-imposed sanctions. Note: in this write-up, I mentioned Johnson. Classic mix-up! Should have had him in the freshman of the year category!

6. Perry Jones will rush for 1,000 yards. Well, it certainly appeared that way in the preseason, with a returning starter at quarterback and some excellent returning offensive tackles as well. But the Hoos could never get their running game going consistently, and Jones finished with just 463 yards and two touchdowns while sharing time in the backfield.

7. The ACC will have five teams ranked at some point this season. Uh ... umm ... way overvalued Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State, along with just about everybody else out there. Head-scratching year to say the least when only two ACC teams end the season ranked.

8. Boston College will struggle. Again, not going out on a limb with this prediction, but I had a feeling this would be its worst season in years. The Eagles only won two games and Frank Spaziani was fired.

9. Rookie running back attack. Not so much. Johnson was the only one in the group of freshmen backs I mentioned who actually did well. The others? J.C. Coleman (492 yards), Wes Brown (382 yards), Albert Reid (92 yards, injured), Jela Duncan (553 yards) and Shaquille Powell (93 yards, position switch to safety) played but were not ACC standouts.

10. Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner will get 20 sacks combined. Half credit. Why? Jenkins' replacement, Tank Carradine, combined with Werner for 24 total sacks. Huge testament to the depth the Noles have at that position.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 19, 2012
World Series bound!
The jokes about the Clemson defense began during the Orange Bowl and have kept on rolling.

The most stale line by far: "Wait. I think West Virginia just scored again."

The Tigers have heard them all after a 70-33 loss to the Mountaineers on the biggest stage of the season. But there is nobody laughing in Clemson.

With a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables and a new season ahead, there would be no better way to make the jokes stop than with an impressive performance against Auburn in the opener Saturday. This group simply cannot afford anything less.

[+] EnlargeRashard Hall
Douglas Jones/US PresswireRashard Hall (31) and the Clemson defense are looking to move on from the Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.
"I'm ready for a new beginning," safety Rashard Hall said.

He is not the only one. Questions about this defense have trailed Clemson since the final seconds ticked away in Miami, becoming a dominant storyline going into this season. Coach Dabo Swinney promptly fired Kevin Steele after the loss and brought in Venables, whose impeccable credentials at Oklahoma alone give the Tigers an upgrade.

The reviews so far have been extremely flattering.

"He brings a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. ... Brent Venables is one of the best coaches I've ever had," Hall said. "Just the way he leads, his enthusiasm. He is real purposeful and a get-after-it kind of guy. We have all really responded to that."

Linebacker Corico Wright told local reporters: "We love what Coach Venables has brought to the table for us, what he's asked us to do. He has a lot of energy. He's a teacher, he makes sure we know what we're doing. From a defense standpoint, you see guys attacking the football whether it's in the air or on the ground, that's going to be the biggest difference for us this year."

The first order of business for Venables is rebuilding up front. With Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson gone, Malliciah Goodman is the lone returning starter on the defensive line and must take the next step in his development to carry this team. He is just about the only certainty along the line.

Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Corey Crawford are all sophomores and expected to start, with Josh Watson and Vic Beasley also expected to be big contributors. There are going to be changes at linebacker, as well, with the emergence of Quandon Christian and true freshman Travis Blanks. Wright is playing outside behind Tig Willard, after Stephone Anthony emerged in the middle last year.

Then, in the secondary, Hall, Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks will all play at safety, and Darius Robinson takes over for Coty Sensabaugh at cornerback. Swinney was asked this week for his thoughts on who would emerge as a defensive playmaker this year, and he essentially said that was a large unknown.

The answers will start to come Saturday.

"There’ll be some good, there’ll be some bad," Venables told reporters in Clemson. "That’s what this season is about. The best teams I’ve had have gotten better over the course of the year. You find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Game day is part of that process. Putting guys in the right spots, hopefully we’ve been able to identify that but maybe after the first game it isn’t what you thought it was. Hopefully at the end of the day there’ll be more passing grades than not. That means you played well. You want to see your guys play with great discipline, toughness and effort. You have that, you have a strong foundation."

2012 ACC preseason predictions

August, 27, 2012
It is time to consult my Magic 8 ball and come up with 10 preseason predictions for the ACC this season. If I get any of these wrong, place all of your blame on said Magic 8 ball.

1. Florida State will win the ACC. Where have you heard that one before? This is the year it will happen! I do not have my fingers crossed behind my back. The best I can do is pinkie-swear with you that the Noles have the best team in the ACC this year and will finish the year ranked in the top five. Wait, that is two predictions in one. Double bonus!

2. The ACC will win its BCS game. Yes indeed, as the BCS representative, Florida State will be the first to take baby steps toward improving the depressing BCS results. That defense is going to be simply outstanding.

3. Travis Blanks will be the freshman of the year. Of all the true freshmen who are going to see playing time this year, I have the most confidence at this point to say Blanks will make the biggest impact on his team. Clemson needs help on defense, and Blanks has shown throughout the spring and summer he will be able to contribute in a variety of ways.

4. Maryland will be better this year. I know the Terps lost quarterback C.J. Brown and have had a few other pretty significant injuries during preseason camp, but there is no way they will be worse than last season. Perry Hills will have his share of growing pains as a true freshman starting quarterback. But Randy Edsall now has a team committed to playing for him, and that will make a huge difference this year.

5. Miami will be better than expected. Not many people have faith in the Hurricanes this year, with only 10 starters returning and limited depth at a variety of positions on the field. But I think Stephen Morris will be a major upgrade over Jacory Harris and there are plenty of young playmakers who will do well when pressed into playing time. Watch out for Duke Johnson, who has the potential to dazzle.

6. Perry Jones will rush for 1,000 yards. There is depth and talent at running back for UVa, but Jones came oh-so-close to the coveted mark last year. He will be better this year and become the first Virginia running back to reach 1,000 yards since Alvin Pearman in 2004.

7. The ACC will have five teams ranked at some point this season. Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech go into the season as the lone ranked ACC teams. But Georgia Tech and NC State are good enough to be in the Top 25 right now, so I think all five will be in the poll. They may even end the season that way.

8. Boston College will struggle. I am having a hard time finding much to get excited about when it comes to this team. Coach Frank Spaziani finds himself on the hot seat, so he has to get back to a bowl game. I just don't see it. The best defensive player in the entire country is gone in Luke Kuechly. Not even he could save this team last year. Injuries to some of its best players are mounting, and the nonconference schedule is not easy with games at Northwestern, Army and home to Notre Dame. I worry about BC this year.

9. Rookie running back attack. There are several true freshmen running backs who have a shot at having big seasons this year. Watch out for the aforementioned Johnson at Miami; J.C. Coleman at Virginia Tech; Wes Brown and Albert Reid at Maryland; and Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell at Duke.

10. Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner will get 20 sacks combined. The two had 15 combined last year (Jenkins was second in the ACC with eight, while Werner had seven). Clemson's Andre Branch was the only ACC player to reach double digits in sacks last year. I think there will be more than one this year, given some of the talent returning.

True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.

ACC's top newcomers

April, 3, 2012
The ACC hauled in three of the nation's top-10 recruiting classes for the Class of 2012, and several teams could benefit immediately for their efforts. Here, we look at the top newcomers in the conference for the upcoming fall.

Florida State DE Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan). The Seminoles' 2012 class was ranked second nationally, and Edwards, the nation's top overall player, is a big reason for that. The 6-foot-4, 197-pounder has the size and agility to contribute immediately to a defense that finished fourth overall in 2011.

Florida State DT tackle Eddie Goldman (Washington, D.C./Collegiate Academy). Another big reason for the nation's No. 2 class? How about the nation's top defensive tackle, too. A senior season that featured 38 tackles, 15 sacks and five forced fumbles makes the 6-4, 310-pound Goldman hard to ignore.

Miami CB Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla./Miramar). Hampered by an uncertain future, Al Golden and the rest of the Hurricanes' staff hauled in the No. 8 class, one that is quarterback-heavy (with three). But Howard, the nation's top corner, is the biggest get of the group. At 5-11 and 185, the nation's No. 18 overall player has the instincts and physicality to get on the field early, especially with Miami returning only two experienced corners.

Clemson S Travis Blanks (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian). A defense that gave up 70 points in its 2011 finale can use all the help it can get, meaning Blanks, the nation's No. 2 safety, could be in position to get on the field soon. Enrolling early, the 6-1, 195-pound Blanks has already earned public praise from coach Dabo Swinney, who brought in the nation's No. 10 recruiting class to the defending conference champs.