The Return of Derwin James
By BJ Bennett
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James brings a different dimension to the FSU back-end. Simply put, there isn't a better defender in all of college football.
Derwin James is dynamic, explosive, intuitive, versatile and, perhaps most importantly, healthy. The rising junior is back, active, at Florida State's spring camp after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Seminoles' second game last season. James brings a different dimension to the Florida State back-end. Simply put, there isn't a better defender in all of college football.
It didn't take long for James to live up to his five-star recruiting status. James recorded 91 total tackles as a true freshman, leading the Seminoles with 52 solo stops, adding 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, both good for second on the team. Through the stretch run of the year, James was completely taking over games as he compiled at least nine tackles in each of Florida State's final six outings and recorded 6.5 tackles for loss in that stretch; for point of reference, that's more than soon-to-be number one NFL Draft pick Myles Garrett had in the same span.
As a pre-season All-American as a sophomore, James recorded a team-high eight stops and an interception in the Seminoles' opening win against Ole Miss. The aforementioned injury against Charleston Southern ultimately shut him dowm for the rest of the year. Though he wasn't able to suit up, James remained deeply involved, traveling on every road trip and serving as a fixture in sideline huddles. His role as a leader has only grown.
James, after rehabilitation and rest, is now raring to go. His presence on the practice field has given Florida State an extra boost this March, also helping to validate some of the lofty rankings seen in early national polls. Just resuming regular football activities has been a continuation that James has worked hard for.
"It felt great to be back out here with my team," he explained on Seminoles.com after the opening day of spring in Tallahassee. "I haven’t played football in about four months, so it felt great to put on a helmet again."
With James back in the mix, Florida State will boast, perhaps, the top defensive backfield in the country. Tavarus McFadden tied for the national lead with eight interceptions in an All-American sophomore season for the Seminoles, winning the Jack Tatum Award. All-ACC veteran Nate Andrews has played in 45 career games and has a national championship ring. Across the depth chart, the talent and ability is off the charts.
The ways James can impact a game are many. At 6'3'', 211 pounds, the Haines City-native is the absolute prototype. James, as a safety, has the strength to play near the line of scrimmage and the speed to close on passes downfield. On the first day of spring practice for the Seminoles, he also lined up as a cornerback and a return specialist.
"He can have the skill set to do anything," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher nodded. "He returned (kicks) in high school and was a great guy. There are just not many positions he can’t play."
A return to the field is a return to form for James. His first official game back will be a fitting one as Florida State will meet Alabama in a heavyweight bout on the opening Saturday in September; it will be the first football-game ever in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. James will be one of the headline attractions in, likely, the most highly-anticipated showdown of the regular season.
Both patience and persistence have helped James overcome the adversity of last fall. Moving forward, don't just expect James to want to prove he is the same player he was, but rather show that he has been improving ever since. The next step, in essence, is taking his game to the next level.
Few players nationally have the sheer talent that James does. Already the complete package, he now has extra motivation added in.