The James gang

When asked about the mid-term freshman who lines up next to him in Tennessee's offensive line, veteran right guard Jarrod Shaw shakes his head - not in disgust but in awe.

Massive Ja'Wuan James was promoted to No. 1 right tackle within two weeks after he showed up last month for the first spring practice. Though incredibly raw, the 6-7, 320-pound rookie has some gifts that make even a fifth-year senior envious.

"There are some things I've been working on for years that he possesses naturally," Shaw said, slowly shaking his head. "He's going to be a good one."

James already is "a good one." He may be destined to become a great one.

Signed out of North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., James is one of those rare freshmen who is advanced enough - physically and mentally - to compete against college veterans from Day One. That's a rare combination to find in one so young.

"It starts with having the physical skills," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "Ja'Wuan has the size and he has great recovery. His athleticism allows him to function, even when he gets out of position - which he does a lot - but that's going to happen when you're not experienced."

Size and strength are vital when you're competing against older, more experienced players. But heft and power aren't enough to earn a freshman a first-team job. For offensive linemen in particular, the right mental makeup is essential.

"There's an emotional maturity that has to come with it, and he's a very mature and balanced young man," Dooley said. "He doesn't get too frustrated when things don't go well. He doesn't have a lot of highs or lows. He's got a real even keel. He stays focused on improvement, and that's a hard thing for a young guy to do."

Tennessee's offensive line coach says James is a quick study who already grasps the blocking schemes better than some of Tennessee's veteran players.

"He picks things up well," Harry Hiestand said. "He doesn't play confused at all. If he gets beat it isn't because of mental mistakes. There are some other guys that struggle more with the mental. Not him. His problem is just getting stronger and being in the live action."

Even at 6-7 and 320 pounds, James needs to develop more power and aggressiveness - two traits he didn't need to dominate at the high school level.

"He's made steady progress," Hiestand said. "He's playing against guys a lot older than him, obviously, but he's a good athlete and a big guy. With a good three months pounding the weights, he'll be significantly improved once we hit (preseason) training camp.

"He's a very determined and focused young man. He'll make steady progress because of that."

Shaw thinks so, too. He sees a very bright future for Ja'Wuan James.

"You see it in his talent, in the way he plays," Shaw said. "He's got a lot to learn, as far as game speed and a couple of technique issues. But he has all of the intangibles that coaches love."

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