A distant dream for talent became a reality on Sunday with linebacker Shemar James committing to the University of Florida.
Following an official visit to Gainesville over the weekend, the Faith Academy (Mobile, Ala.) prospect released his shocking announcement that the Gators had won the race in his recruitment.
Narrowing down his list to home state Alabama and Florida previously, James was thought to be a near-lock to continue his football career in Tuscaloosa. However, yet again, linebackers coach Christian Robinson took to the unofficial linebacker talent mecca of the world in Alabama to secure his third linebacker prospect from the star in four years.
Plucking guys like Mohamoud Diabate and Jeremiah ‘Scooby’ Williams previously, Robinson has become a force to be reckoned with in the region, proving such again early this cycle.
Sporting a haul of outside linebackers, James fits in the inside linebacker variety, with traits that could have him see meaningful snaps in year one. As a result, James could be vying for early playing time at Florida with the interior linebacker spots looking bare.
What does James do well that slates him for substantial success in blue and orange? What area will he need to improve?
Instincts against the run
When occupying the inside linebacker position, instinctually filling run gaps sits as a top priority.
Luckily for the Gators, that may be what James does best.
Playing as aggressively as he does, James could easily be deemed out of control by critics if it wasn’t for his ability to quickly diagnose where the play is going.
In many instances, James is able to use his speed and acceleration to burst through the line of scrimmage before the play gets started, taking down ball carriers for loss of yardage. In other scenarios, James plays smart to fill run gaps with urgency and physicality.
Beating potential blockers to the spot using his wide-open nature and feel for the game, James is a tough man to get in front of, allowing his playmaking instincts to take over.
Leading to 66 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in his junior season, James’ knack for clogging rushing holes plays into the intrigue for his usage in the Gators defense.
Slippery Pass Rusher
The staple to a Todd Grantham-led defense is the ability to rush any of the 11 players at any given time. Of course, it helps when they’re equipped to do so.
As of June 20, Florida gained another weapon to employ after the quarterback. James, who will be moved around the Gators' formation similarly to how he is at Faith Academy, shows considerable burst off the line when rushing the passer.
Making himself thin when coming through the line from the inside linebacker spot, James executes one of the most important lessons for backers in training.
Taught as one of the early steps for linebacker development is how they can lose their advantage coming from the second level as soon as the offensive linemen get their hands in their chest. As a result, linebacker coaches across the nation preach to their players the importance of squeezing by lineman to ensure blitz calls remain effective.
James executes the lesson to perfection, squeezing through gaps on the line without allowing a chest punch from one of the big men up front to slow him down with polish. Once slipping through their grasps, James shows elite-level closing speed to bring down eluding quarterbacks, tallying six sacks on the year.
Winning from the outside in much less volume on his junior highlight tape, James’ versatility slates him to find success for sending pressure in the UF defense.
Ability to make plays on the ball in coverage
A jack of all trades.
Doubling as a wide receiver for Faith Academy High School and even a wildcat quarterback, James has shown impressive athleticism for someone of his stature. Consistently winning reps as a receiver due to his raw talent, James exemplifies several traits that directly translate to winning reps in trailing coverage.
Most notably, James pairs his lengthy limbs with a 37.6-inch vertical to make plays in coverage, getting hands-on the football with more ease than most linebackers, whether it be a batted pass or impressive highpoint interceptions.
With experience making people miss in the open field with the ball in his hands, plus his 4.49 40 yard dash speed, James makes for a dangerous threat to capitalize off a turnover he forces.
Like most linebackers, strides can be made to play the faster, leaner wide receivers with more consistency. However, having a foundational understanding of zone coverage schemes and how to be in the right place at the right time, James suits the role he will be asked to assume.
Despite shining brightest when working downhill against the run, James' familiarity with how offenses operate indicates he will be far from a one-dimensional linebacker in a Florida defensive scheme that prides itself on versatility and unpredictability.
The mantra of any and all football coaches — no matter the level — is to operate at 100 percent from snap through the whistle. Some players gloss over the simple but effective piece of advice, while others take it to heart.
James is a prime example of the latter. Firing off the ball with a purpose each down, the Faith Academy backer plays with his hair on fire to create big, physical tackles in a multitude of different ways.
Paired with his aforementioned skill of diagnosing runs, James accelerates through gaps with bad intentions for the player toting the rock, hitting home mere seconds after the ball is handed to the ball carrier in the backfield with a full-speed blow.
At maximum effort, through the whistle with consistency.
As a result, James is equipped to not only bring game-altering talent but an edge of confidence back to the middle of an underperforming linebacker corps with his high-energy play style.
An impressive pull for the Florida recruiting staff, James immediately becomes a staple of the Gators 2022 class in an area of need.
James is a prototype for the Gators system with his well-rounded attributes from in the middle, providing several desirable traits to the defense.
With a possibility of adding another linebacker to the mix down the line — with Unity Reed’s Shawn Murphy as the top target — the substantial building block for the second level's reconstruction is already in the books.
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