Ducks

Oregon Ducks: DJ James 'ready' to step into expected starting role

Ducks

With Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir expecting their names called during the 2021 NFL Draft, it's a new era for the Oregon Ducks cornerback room.

With Graham Jr. opting out of the 2020 season, Mykael Wright stepped into a starting role last season, taking some lumps but putting on an All-Pac-12 worthy season. 

Now, it's looking like it'll be DJ James' turn to start the 2021 season.

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After seeing rotation snaps for two seasons, the third-year cornerback has impressed during spring football to emerge as the favorite to start opposite Wright when the season kicks off September 4th against Fresno State. 

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” said James during Thursday's media session. "I’m ready for it.”

Defensive backs coach Rod Chance agrees, but also warned there may be growing pains for James this season like there are for all corners when adjusting to a new workload at the college level.

"As a corner, there's a difference between going in there to spell people and going out there to play 75, 80 snaps. So there's some growing pains," Chance said he told James. 

"Mykael had to go through that first game. He gave up a couple catches that first game and a lot of people were in a hoopla but he ended up having an all-conference season once he ended up having the experience necessary under his belt."

 

As for James, Chance expects a similar progression. 

Last season when Lenoir opted back in, it meant Wright was the more juicy matchup for the offense to throw against and he got tested more as a result. 

Now with Wright as a returning starter (and likely 2022 NFL Draft pick), opposing offenses will create situations to test DJ James instead. 

"Some of that's going to happen," said Chance. "He's gonna have to [step] up."

It'll only be a matter of time though until both corners are locking up opposing receivers as Chance thinks they both have the physical tools necessary.

"Those two young prospects are very good players with very good skill sets. Now it's just about adding the body strength, the play strength, and really for DJ, the confidence," said Chance.

"It's easy to be confident when you've played 936 snaps which I believe is Mykael's snap count. DJ's at 265 snaps since he's been here so I think having that [amount of] snaps is helpful but imagine when he gets to 500, 600 snaps, when there's not a situation that he hasn't seen."

James has been getting a large portion of first-team reps if the first spring scrimmage was representative of the rest of spring camp, and he looked impressive as well. On one deep ball, James ran with Devon Williams stride-for-stride and blanketed him, disallowing Williams to even attempt a play on the ball down the left sideline. 

"For DJ, I think he's the same [caliber of] athlete as Mykael," added Chance. "You've seen him move around, you've seen him run around, change directions. He can do the same things, it's just those reps and getting that experience.

From the sound of it, Ducks fans have plenty to be excited for with James stepping into a starting role.

"I'm fired up about him. He's dialed in, he's communicating at a high level.

"Competition in the room is good between him, Trikweze, and Jaylin Davies. So it's been fun, but DJ's a special guy. He can move and I'm just anticipating him taking that step forward," concluded Chance.