It may have just been a scrimmage, but Derwin James was playing like a man possessed in Florida State’s spring game on Saturday.
Now, this is nothing new for the junior safety. James has created a reputation for himself as a physical defensive back capable of playing just about anywhere on defense (and probably a lot of offensive positions as well).
What makes James’ play far more impressive is that Saturday was his first football game in nearly seven months. He had been out of action since going down with a torn meniscus in his left knee on September 10th against Charleston Southern, way back in the second week of the 2016 season.
If you hadn’t known that before watching the game, though, you would have had no idea. James led all players with seven total tackles and three tackles-for-loss, was tied for the team lead with four solo tackles, and added a pair of sacks.
“He’s a great player,” Jimbo Fisher frankly said after the game. “He can move up, he can play in the back end, and that’s what you expect of him.”
As Fisher mentioned, James did exactly that on Saturday. Although he got the start at safety, James played some in a star/money role which brought him closer to the line of scrimmage among the linebackers. He also blitzed the quarterback from a variety of positions, often with great success.
Afterwards, all of James’ teammates I spoke to were as highly complimentary of James and what he means to this Florida State defense. With all the lofty praise he is being given by his teammates, it’s easy to see why the defense just wasn’t the same without him last year.
“He’s better than he ever was,” quarterback Deondre Francois said. “He’s always going to be that guy. He’s the quarterback of the defense.”
“I see a new Derwin,” sophomore defensive end Brian Burns added. “Now he is tossing guys. He is getting to the ball, running to the ball, using his moves and using his strength, and I haven’t seen that until this spring.”
“He is going to make up for your mistakes. He is going to be there,” Jacob Pugh said when prompted on what he means to this defense. “He is all over the field. He is Superman.”
Unlike Superman, though, I’m not sure that James’ game has a kryptonite.
It wasn’t always easy for James, however, as Fisher admitted he took some time to adapt to practice once again earlier this spring.
“There were a couple days he had to ease his way back into it,” Fisher said. “It wasn’t like he was bad, you could see that there was still another level you knew he had. He’s starting to get back to that.”
Still, it doesn’t seem like it took very long for James to readjust and he now seems fully healthy and poised ahead of a money year which could very well be his last at Florida State.