Clemson CB Mark Fields primed for breakout year

Clemson defensive back Mark Fields (24)
Clemson defensive back Mark Fields (24) USA TODAY Sports

Mark Fields knew he’d have an opportunity to earn a starting job in Clemson’s secondary in 2016 after the Tigers lost three-fourths of the unit to the NFL.

In spring practice and during fall camp, he made the most of it.

Fields is expected to be a starter at corner when Clemson travels to Auburn to open the season on Saturday.

He received only minimal playing time as a true freshman last year, and admittedly didn’t live up to his potential, but went into the offseason with a new attitude and carried that into practice.

“This year, my mentality has just changed completely in everything. … Everything when it comes to football, just film study, everything,” he said.

Fields played mostly special teams in 2015, logging 78 snaps in 13 games and recording three tackles. He played 24 combined snaps in the College Football Playoff as the Tigers beat Oklahoma and lost to Alabama.

Fields was disappointed he didn’t receive more playing time as a true freshman, but used that as motivation heading into the offseason.

“I felt like last year I could’ve played more, but obviously I didn’t do the things I needed to,” he said. “Carrying over from that, I just wanted to show them that I can step up and be that No. 1 corner.”

Fields feels he has improved every aspect of his game, particularly using his eyes to read quarterbacks and receivers.

“Eyes are the biggest thing, double moves, things like that,” he said. “Without great eye discipline that can really expose you. I would say eye discipline is a very good thing when it comes to cornerback.”

He’s impressed Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, who said last week that if the season started then, Fields “would definitely start” at cornerback.

Despite receiving praise from his coach, Fields said he’ll continue to work just as hard in practice to prove he’s deserving of the starting job.

“My mentality doesn’t change. I’m just going to continue like I’m not the starter or anything like that. I’m just going to continue to grind,” he said.