Blackwell is the Gamecocks’ new defensive coordinator after serving in the same position for Fordham. He brings an aggressive approach that led the FCS in takeaways last season. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, recorded the second most sacks of any FCS team in the country.
“I think it all meshes together,” Grass said Saturday. “The job they did at Fordham was outstanding. It was pretty impressive what they’d done there. What we want is to continue to get the kids to play at a high level.”
Fordham was 12-2 last season, losing to eventual national runner-up Towson in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
The Rams had 40 takeaways -- 19 fumbles (second nationally) and 21 interceptions (third) -- and ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin. They ranked among the top 40 in scoring defense and top 15 in red zone defense until that 48-28 loss to Towson.
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, had 52 sacks. They had 11 in their second-round playoff win at McNeese State.
“I’m coming into a defense that also made great strides and kind of hit its stride late in the
year,” Blackwell said. “If we can continue to emphasize taking the ball away and play well in the red zone and couple that with some of the things they were able to do this past season, we have a chance to be a very special defense.”
Blackwell said creating so many takeaways is a matter of emphasis, which he plans to do here every day. Two of his Fordham defensive backs combined for 15 takeaways last year.
“It was just constantly talked about to the point it became habit forming,” he said. “We’re going to emphasize turnovers, running to the football and kind of match our offense with a fast style of play. We want to be aggressive … and create as many opportunities for our offense as we can. The more at-bats we can give them, the better chance we have to be successful.”
It is uncertain whether Blackwell will coach linebackers or safeties, two areas where the Gamecocks lost a lot. That will be decided when Grass finalizes his staff, which he told the crowd at Saturday’s basketball doubleheader he believed would happen soon.
Before Fordham, Blackwell was co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at South Florida and also coached at Clemson, Pitt, Illinois State and East Carolina.
He left a Fordham program “on the verge of some great things” for an opportunity to back into his “recruiting blueprint” and an area where football “is so important.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.