Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
Tennessee didn't need any reminders in the spring.
It was obvious enough of the time that Ja'Wuan James was a true freshman and prone to some mistakes that there was no confusing his class.
The starting right tackle might still miss a few assignments once he gets on the field for the Vols for the first time Saturday against UT Martin (TV: VideoSeat PPV; 6 p.m.), but it appears to already be more difficult for coach Derek Dooley to remember just how young James really is.
"We laughed about it in a staff meeting," Dooley said. "We act like the guy's a junior because he's like one of our veterans. He's been here seven months, not two months. He's extremely mature, he's very balanced, he's intelligent and he's going to be a really good player. I don't know how he's going to perform Saturday, and so I'm not going to be surprised if we go in a little rat-trapping. That's what happens.
"I'm as comfortable as probably any coach could ever be with a true freshman starting at right tackle. But Ja'Wuan could barely breathe in the mock game from anxiety, and there was nobody in the stands. You can't forget he's a true freshman."
The more that slips Dooley's mind though, the better off the Vols will be as they unveil their totally rebuilt and heavily scrutinized offensive line against the Skyhawks.
Perhaps the single biggest question mark about UT throughout the offseason was how well its young group would come together in front of both a new quarterback and running back, and James might be the clearest example of progress after speeding through the learning curve after spring camp.
The monstrous 6-foot-7, 313-pounder obviously has the size to play tackle, and his four-star rating out of high school suggested the skills as well. But like the rest of the line, there's no experience to really speak of - other than the work in practice against a handful of defensive ends who can easily simulate the challenges of an SEC game.
"I think he's ready to start in this conference," UT senior Chris Walker said. "During the spring there were times when you could tell that he was supposed to be in high school (at that point). But going up against guys like Gerald (Williams) and Malik (Jackson) when he got here, and me and Ben (Martin), I think he's gotten a lot more stronger with the scheme that he's in.
"He's come into his own playing on that offensive line, and I think that's helped him out a lot. I think he's going to be ready for the speed of the game, I think he's going to be ready for the strength of the game, so I think he did a good job this summer. I'm really proud of Ja'Wuan because he's a guy that I've built a good relationship with and I'm proud to see how much he's grown."
James doesn't have a lot of room to do much more of it physically, but he still has a clean slate when it comes to production and plenty of time to develop into an elite tackle.
On the other hand, the Vols can't really afford to wait long for him to get settled and catch his breath when Neyland Stadium actually fills up this weekend. They need him to look like a junior right away.
"You wouldn't know that he's a true freshman right out of high school," Williams said. "That's one guy that picked up really, really fast.
"He's going to be a great help for us, and I feel very good about him."