It’s a homecoming of sorts for former Florida State and now L.A. Chargers safety Derwin James at the Pro Bowl in Orlando this weekend. James has had quite the rookie year in the NFL after being taken in the first round by the Chargers last April.
The season culminated with his team making the playoffs and winning their Wildcard game in an upset at Baltimore with a tremendous defensive performance. Unfortunately, they were beaten decisively the following week by the now, AFC Champion Patriots ending their 2018.
Still, for James he’s come a long way in a short amount of NFL time, and has apparently a very bright future ahead of him.
Consider the end of James’s college career at FSU.
He basically did not play in 2016 due to a knee injury suffered early in the season that required micro-fracture surgery and rehab. Head coach Jimbo Fisher stressed to James that he needed to think about his long-term future, including the pros and not rush back that year.
The Seminoles went on to have a good finish to the 2016 season and even won their Orange Bowl game against Michigan with James watching the entire time.
Fast forward to the disastrous 2017 season for Florida State, as they floundered after starting quarterback Deondre Francois was injured in the opener with Alabama. And, it became more apparent as the year went on, that Fisher was looking to exit more so than trying to coach up the Noles into being better.
James was solid but not spectacular in terms of stats, but the FSU continued to struggle to win games. Fisher did leave for Texas A&M late in the season. A season ended with Florida State barely making .500 at 6 – 6 and James electing to sit out their Independence Bowl game with Southern Miss looking towards his NFL future.
As we have written on more than one occasion since James was drafted by the Chargers later in the first round, both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins (who had need at safety) passed on the chance to get the Florida State star.
In Miami’s case they went with a fellow defensive back, who could help them at safety as well, in Minkah Fitzpatrick. He was good, but not spectacular in what turned out to be a 7-9 Miami season.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay chose massive Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea instead of James to help in their secondary. The Buccaneers pass defense, and secondary specifically, was so bad the first half of 2018 that defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired mid-year.
While the Bucs were better in the second half of the season they still finished 5-11. And, it’s only more fueled the outrage of some by Buccaneer fans and criticism from some media on the decision to have passed on James, when there was clearly a need.
And, then James developed and starred out in Los Angeles into one of the top safeties in all of the NFL, as their 2018 progressed. The analytics guys at Pro Football Focus have raved about James all year:
Derwin James has been the top rookie safety in the NFL this season. pic.twitter.com/BMfxhpsiF1
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 12, 2018
He helped the Chargers to a 12 – 4 record and the playoff success that we mentioned above.
And in addition to the on-field winning success, James graded out as one of the best young players in the NFL last season. That has to have the Chargers and their fans smiling for the future with James part of it.
Just as James has been smiling at Disney’s Wide World of Sports this week, coming back to his home region Haines City in Central Florida, as part of the AFC Pro Bowl team.
— Bill Kemp (@BillKempSports) January 24, 2019
For most young players it’s not only a reward, but a fantastic opportunity to be around and even bond with some of the other great players from other teams in the NFL in this relaxed all star format.
And, Derwin James is clearly getting to do that based on what he earned his first year in the league with the Chargers.
And good news for James is: he has the chance to be even better for a long time to come.
And, that’s worse news for the Chargers opponents and those that passed on the had the opportunity to grab him last April.
FSU visited by Dungy and Brooks in Bradenton
FSU has spent the week practicing at IMG in Bradenton. On Wednesday, head coach Willie Taggart invited former NFL head coach Tony Dungy and Seminole legend Derrick Brooks spend some time with the team and offer a few words of wisdom after practice.
Had a wonderful time visiting the @FSUFootball team today with @DBrooks55 We talked about developing a positive culture of excellence and unity. Derrick talked about how to be a well rounded student and teammate. Thanks Coach Taggart for giving us the opportunity. https://t.co/yrWsJUbMJK
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) August 14, 2019
Taggart wanted the guys to give his payers some insight on what it takes to be a part of a turn around team.
The former Super Bowl winning head coach told the team team that, if they want to see success on the field, they’re going to have to come together to do it.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) August 15, 2019
He ended with what it really means to be a champion, and having that championship mentality goes far beyond what you can do for your school on the field.
“Being a champion isn’t just being the best you can be on the field. Thats part of it. But it’s being the best teammate you can be, its being the best student you can be, person you can be and impact everyone. We didn’t bring you to Florida State just to win a national champion ship…Be the best person you can be for this university, for your family for your teammates, and you’ll leave a legacy here at Florida State.
You guys wanted to come to Florida State because of what these guys did. There are kids now who are going to want to come to Florida State because of what guys do. And that’s the power, that’s the fun, that’s what you’re going to really remember.”
Brooks then joined him for an extended Q&A session and told the group of guys, including his son, sophomore DeCalon Brooks, about what goes into a championship culture.
“It doesn’t take talent to have a championship culture, right? It takes effort. It takes awesome. No excuses, no explanations.” And mirroring the sentiment of Dungy he added, “that championship culture has to extend itself off the field…and we have the ingredients to be a championship-culture program.”
Coach Dungy has had a relationship with the Seminoles for a while, as Bobby Bowden was one of his role models when he began his career in coaching. And, in his time in Tampa with the Bucs, he coached two FSU greats in Brooks and Warrick Dunn.
Dungy and Brooks were foundational pieces of turning the Buccaneer program around and instilling a championship culture in Tampa Bay.
There’s no doubt that Tallahassee is ready for the return of a championship culture.
FSU Starting QB plot thickens
Many FSU fans are heading into the football season cautiously optimistic that this year, at the very least, will be an improvement from the last. Others are still questioning if Willie Taggart’s second year will look any different from the first, and that’s largely due to the fact that the Noles are just under three weeks away from kickoff with no certain QB1.
With former FSU starter Deodre Francois long gone, the battle is mainly between former backup QB James Blackman and former Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook. From what we can tell so far, it seems as if FSU’s offensive staff has spent much of the offseason preparing Blackman for the job, but for the most part, it still seems up in the air.
On Monday, Taggart was asked by the media if there would any benefit to deciding who is going to be the starting quarterback sooner rather than later.
His answer was vauge, but encouraging.
“It all depends on the circumstances. I think you always like to have a guy that’s your guy but we’re going to keep it competitive. Both guys are doing a great job and it’s been fun to watch. They both go in and execute the offense and I’ve been impressed because not only do they execute the offense with the ones but they get in with the twos and do that same thing. That’s impressive to me. They both are having a really good camp and we’ll keep it going.”
“We’ll keep it going” is not exactly what Florida State fans want to hear as they eagerly await for an offensive leader they can begin rallying behind.
For now, all we have to go on is what’s been happening in practice.
Brendan Sonnone of Noles247 reported on the state of the competition from practice on Monday. Here’s what he had to say about each of the guys vying for the job.
Sonnone started with Blackman, saying that he’s continuing to stand out.
“Spent 10-15 minutes watching the quarterbacks throw on Sunday and James Blackman remained the most consistent of the bunch in that viewing time. Blackman, who appears to be having fun but also quickly getting in and out of reps, was on target on every throw he made on the day. He regularly put it across the facemasks of his receiver or on their hands. Easily catchable balls.”
James Blackman to Tre’ McKitty pic.twitter.com/rqKTB2q0j0
— Noles247.com (@Noles247) August 11, 2019
As for Hornibrook, Sonnone said:
“He also knows where he is going with the ball and when to get rid of it. His main issue is that he sometimes leaves them a bit high.”
Alex Hornibrook to Jordan Young pic.twitter.com/bk3CNqdlRF
— Noles247.com (@Noles247) August 11, 2019
But, now officially in the mix is Louisville transfer, Jordan Travis. On Monday morning, it was announced that he has been officially been granted eligibility for the 2019 season.
According to Noles247, “He had one of the nicer balls of the viewing session when he connected on a vertical route with wide receiver Adarius Dent. Travis has looked to be moving around with a bit of a limp in recent days.”
Jordan Travis to Adarius Dent pic.twitter.com/UKofjCi5Nb
— Noles247.com (@Noles247) August 11, 2019
The addition of Travis into the competition is likely going to make it harder for Taggart and OC Kendal Briles to select their starting guy, but on the positive side, it’s better to have too many options than not enough.
We just hope that the right decision can be made before the season kicks off, rather than during.