TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State's Derwin James came into the season expecting to be the quarterback of the defense. Due to an injury the second week of the season, his role has changed to more of a coach.
The sophomore defensive back, who suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee on Sept. 10, is hopeful he can return by the end of the season for the 23rd-ranked Seminoles. In the meantime, he has been trying to coach up the defensive backs on the sideline for what has been a beleaguered defense.
Going into Saturday's game at No. 10 Miami, Florida State (3-2) is among the nation's worst defenses and has dropped two of its past three games. It is in danger of dropping its first three Atlantic Coast Conference games for the first time since 2009.
''With me being hurt, it's like I'm learning more as a coach. So it's kind of different versus going out there and applying it to the field. I'm learning, I'm seeing it and now I'm telling other guys,'' James said.
James has been encouraged with his rehabilitation progress. He is down to just one crutch and is doing flexibility drills, but he didn't want to give a timeline on his return.
James' absence has been noticeable. The Seminoles are allowing 6.98 yards per play, which is fourth-worst among the 128 teams in the nation and has given up 25 plays of 30 yards or more, which is second-most in the nation.
When James was injured during the third quarter of FSU's win over Charleston Southern, he was leading the team in tackles in the first two games and had recorded his first career interception in the Sept. 5 win over No. 14 Mississippi.
Many projected James to be one of the breakout players in college football this season due to his versatility. Besides being a physical safety, he could play as a rush end in certain pass-rushing situations along with occasionally being used as a linebacker or a corner against a slot receiver. Without James, FSU's deficiencies in pass coverage have been apparent.
''Everybody back there knows what to do. I think we're just overthinking. We just need to communicate better,'' he said.
Coach Jimbo Fisher realizes that James' absence has been a huge blow to the defense, but didn't want to use that as an excuse for the Seminoles' struggles.
''He's a great leader. He's a great guy that keeps things together, and other guys don't have to do things they would be doing,'' Fisher said. ''But everybody deals with that. That's not an excuse in any way, shape, or form. You have to play with what you've got, and we've got good players, and we have good kids. We've just got to figure out how to get them to play well.''
Florida State faces another difficult quarterback this week in Brad Kaaya. The Miami junior has thrown for 721 yards in two games against Florida State with five touchdowns and one interception. His 405 yards in last year's game were the most by a Miami QB in a game in Tallahassee. The Hurricanes (4-0, 1-0 ACC) are unbeaten at this point for the sixth time since 2000.
Miami coach Mark Richt compared James' injury to if the Hurricanes lost Kaaya.
Said Richt: ''I just know that he's one of the best players in college football, and it's always hard to lose a great player at any position. If there's a quarterback of the defense, he was probably it, and I'm sure that makes it tougher to execute. It's tough to lose a great player like that, a great leader.''
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