Breeland quietly emerging

CLEMSON – The best place a cornerback can be is under the radar.

If you're going unnoticed as a collegiate starter, you're doing the right things. You aren't showing up on film for busted coverage or huge mistakes.

That's where Bashaud Breeland finds himself these days.

Clemson's junior cornerback is quietly enjoying a resurgent season, and the Tigers' defense is all the better for it.

Through five games, Breeland has defended only four passes, but he has two interceptions and a pass breakup. In other words, opposing quarterbacks are staying away from him. Far away. Following an injury-plagued 2012, Breeland is living up to his potential this fall as part of a much-improved secondary.

"It feels good to be back, to be able to be healthy and perform for my team," he said. "I don't really pay attention to the injuries. I really put that behind me and focus on the present."

Last fall, Breeland was never quite right. He started four of the first five games, complete with a season-high 70 snaps against Boston College. But he played in only three of the final six games while suffering from groin and abdominal injuries. He missed a loss to South Carolina and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and had offseason surgery to correct the issue.

Now, he's fully healthy and playing like the guy who was one of South Carolina's top recruits and a seven-game starter as a redshirt freshman.

"I'd just say I'm very focused on the task at hand," Breeland said. "My preparation is different. My passion for the game, I'm getting back to my old self, loving the game. I got out of it during the injuries."

Injuries were a common theme for Clemson's secondary last fall. Cornerback Martin Jenkins missed the season with a groin injury, and fellow corner Darius Robinson missed the second half of the season with a broken ankle.

With new secondary coach Mike Reed, Breeland said the Tigers' secondary entered this season with a combative attitude.

"Coming into the season, we wanted to prove people wrong," he said. "Show people that their perception of us should be different."

So far, so good. Through five games, Clemson has eight interceptions as a team. The Tigers had 13 in 13 games last season. Breeland says the secondary's improvement dovetails with that of the defense as a whole.

"It goes hand in hand," he said. "Some teams get the ball out quick and we have to have good coverage for them to get back there, and some teams have good offensive lines, so they have to get rushing so we can make plays on the ball in the back end."

He said the defense "feels totally different, the vibe, the atmosphere."

"Players are coming together," Breeland said. "We're putting it together with all three units, linebackers, defensive line, the secondary." Saturday, Breeland matched his career high with his second interception, a leaping grab. He had two as a freshman, but none last fall. He said it was "the best" the secondary has played as a whole this season.

"I was just covering my guy," he said of the pick. "I was really focused on him, watching his moves. When I heard ‘Ball,' I turned around and the ball was there. I just jumped up, a reaction. I think I played good but it can be better. I had mistakes as well."

While Clemson fans might be looking ahead to a huge ACC showdown with Florida State, Breeland is focused on Boston College. He said with a straight face that "I don't even know who we play next week."

He's plenty worried about the Eagles, who strafed Clemson's secondary for 341 yards last season, led by Alex Amidon's eight catches for 193 yards and two scores.

"We didn't play too good on the back end," he said. "We had a lot of plays get away from us. Our eyes were in bad places, and we had receivers get behind us a lot. It wasn't a good game as a secondary."

Breeland and his fellow corners definitely showed up on film – a phenomenon he doesn't want to relive Saturday.

"Some teams caught some passes on us, but the best is yet to come," he said. "We've still got more to give and we're far from our best."

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