With Mackensie Alexander’s departure for the NFL and Adrian Baker’s torn ACL, sophomore Mark Fields is viewed as the favorite to start opposite Cordrea Tankersley for the Clemson football team at cornerback. Earning that starting job, though, is something he still has to do.
Fields came into Clemson last fall as a four-star recruit, but his first season as a Tiger was forgettable, as he played just 78 total defensive snaps.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who named Fields as a likely starter after Baker’s injury, says he has been impressed with Fields’ development this spring.
“I’m really pleased with Mark,” Swinney said. “He has a chance to be a really, really good player.”
The Tigers didn’t need Fields to play often in 2015: Alexander and Tankersley were consistent as starters, while Baker and Ryan Carter also provided solid play. The other reason Fields played sparingly in his freshman year, however, was his coaches did not feel he was mentally ready.
“Very immature and playful when he got here last year,” Swinney said of Fields. “Kind of Johnny Joe Cool. And I think he had to figure out that you got to work, and you’re not entitled to anything.”
Tankersley, who played just 158 total snaps in his first two seasons as a Tiger, knows what it is like to have to wait his turn to play. He agreed with Swinney, though, that Fields as a freshman “wasn’t ready yet.” And while Tankersley believes his teammate “has all the qualities” to be an excellent cornerback, he still believes Fields has some growing up to do.
Brent Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator, does not think Fields is ready to start.
“Good kid and highly skilled, but you got to play with great, great discipline and great technique and great toughness every snap back there,” Venables said. “He’s not there. Ryan Carter’s there before he is right now.”
To be a starter, Fields needs to “get mentally tougher and be consistent,” Venables said.
“He’s improved some, but I want to see him improve a lot.”
In order to achieve the consistency his coaches and Tankersley are looking for, Fields said he has paid more attention to detail this spring. He has “learned a lot from Cordrea,” he says, and believes practicing against Clemson’s corps of wide receivers, one of the best in college football, has made him better.
“Every day in practice, I’m very, very hard on myself,” Fields said. “I want to do everything perfectly, so if I’m not doing it right, I go home and look at it and see if I can correct it.”
Whether Fields starts or not, teams are likely to throw the ball in his direction often when he is on the field, much like offenses did at Tankersley with Alexander on the opposite side last year. That puts pressure on Fields to consistently be at his best, but also sets him up for opportunities to make plays on the ball.
“I know because Mack is gone, they’re going to look my way because they haven’t seen me out there a lot,” Fields said. “That just fuels my fire and just lets me know that I got to be on my A-game every single play.”
Fields’ top competition for the starting job is Carter, a redshirt junior, but Marcus Edmond–also a redshirt junior–is in the mix as well. Although Baker is sidelined this spring, he could return to the field this fall and also push for playing time.
Nonetheless, Fields expects to start, and believes his physicality, speed and ability to use his hands will make him an asset to the Clemson secondary.
“I like to consider myself a well-rounded player,” Fields said. “Still just working on getting even better.”