The word you're looking for is "confidence." Todd Lyght had it. Both Bobby Taylor and Tom Carter had it. Shane Walton had enough of it that there's probably some leftover from his playing career for his daily life. And Robert Blanton definitely has it.
It's the inner-confidence that the mistake he just made will be his last. It's knowing he's better than the man in front of him, not thinking or believing that he can compete with him. Robert Blanton is going to get the best of his man on the next play, regardless of the opponent, the down and distance, or the pressure of the venue. And if he happens to fail, he won't on the next play.
It's the type of confidence that allowed a freshman to give the Irish their only glimmer of hope in the LA Memorial Coliseum vs. a clearly superior foe. The type of confidence that allowed a freshman, making his first start in Week Ten, to force a six-yard loss on the game's first play. And it's the type of confidence that 90 percent of the talented cornerbacks that came before him claimed but ultimately did not possess.
Blanton is not yet near the level of the four Irish legends listed above (the quartet rank as the best Notre Dame CBs of the last 20 years). He has at least 20 impact games in front of him before we should bother with such a comparison again. But he shares their common traits of competitiveness and the desire to be the defender on which his teammates, coaches, and the fan base can rely.
Of course, while confidence is necessary, even the most self-assured cornerback in the world still has to be able to turn and run.
Former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan once boasted that if he were to have the opportunity to coach a top level cornerback ("give me guy who can fly…give me a Mike Haynes") he'd produce a defense that would set records. The '09 Irish defense might not set records, but the secondary is nonetheless in good hands this season and it begins with the play on the corners.
Blanton's Season Outlook:Speaking of confidence, I've shown a great deal in a sophomore that has just two picks and two more passes defended under his belt. But the'09 Irish secondary should be the strength of the team – a reliable week-to-week unit that makes game-changing plays. And if I were forced to predict a player that will lead the defense in impact plays (turnovers created; passes defended; tackles-for-loss) it would be Blanton.
The cocky sophomore undoubtedly has a few more bumps in the road ahead of him. He's by no means a finished product after four career starts. But the evolution of Blanton from part-time contributor to every-down player should help transform the secondary from simply solid to a group to be reckoned with.
Blanton's Point of Emphasis for 2009:
- Blanton rarely looked like an overmatched player as a freshman, but there were a few instances in which his age, experience level, and physicality did not match the college game (mainly in run support). While he had no problem coming up and punishing a lateral ball carrier, roughing up a receiver, fighting through blocks, or sticking his hat in the pile, Blanton, like most freshman (Darrin Walls included, circa 2005) suffered when he was forced to square up and make a tackle on a runner that had forward momentum.
Blanton's Best Moments of 2008:
- Michigan: After the Irish took a commanding 35-17 lead on a fumble recovery touchdown by Brian Smith to begin the 4th Quarter, Blanton hit the line of scrimmage on a run blitz to nail RB Sam McGuffie for a two-yard loss.
- Purdue: Trailing 7-0 on the first possession of the 2nd Quarter, Blanton stepped in front of a Curtis Painter pass and returned the offering 47 yards for an Irish score. He added five solo stops and another pass break-up in the contest – his first extended action of the season.
- Navy: Making his first start, Blanton wasted no time making an impact, shedding a block and throwing his body into Navy RB Greg Shinego for a six-yard loss on the defense's first play from scrimmage.
- USC: Blanton rose to the occasion in the 1st half vs. the heavily favored Trojans. After a first-possession Clausen interception, Blanton returned the favor, lunging in front of a Mark Sanchez pass to make the pick at the Irish 42-yard line. One possession later, Blanton stayed home on a USC end-around to drop WR Robert Johnson for no gain. Finally, on the first play of the 2nd Quarter, Blanton finished off RB Joe McKnight for a seven-yard loss on a screen pass, eventually forcing a Trojans punt with the Irish still trailing just 7-0.
Blanton's Plays to Forget from 2008:
- North Carolina: Clinging to a 24-16 3rd quarter advantage, Blanton was beaten for a 19-yard gain on 3rd and 18 at the Irish 47. The Tar Heels capitalized seven plays later with a one-yard TD plunge.
- Syracuse: The sophomore CB yielded two first down conversions that led to Orange's first touchdown and a 10-3 1st half advantage in the eventual upset.