Three Pro Bowls, one First Team All-Pro selection, over 200 tackles, and 51.5 career sacks. That's what faces Miami Dolphins rookie offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James every time he steps on the practice field. That's the player he has to stop. And, not many people can stop Cameron Wake.
Getting adjusted to the NFL will seem easy for the Dolphins' first round selection if he can figure out how to prevent Wake, one of the NFL's top pass rushers, from getting to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. So far, it has been an unfair fight, with Wake schooling the rookie - and that's exactly how James wants it.
"I love it because I'm a competitor," James told the media after Sunday's practice. "[Wake]'s a great player and he's going to get me better, as long as I keep going as hard as I can against him, these constant reps we have, it's going to get me ready for what I'm going to see in the season."
James, who many felt was a reach for the Dolphins with the 19th overall pick back in May's NFL Draft, realizes, he's got a lot to learn to be a great player at the NFL level. He also realizes, going up against Wake every day, and making the mistakes now, gets him ready for when the games count.
"Yeah, I'm trying to learn from it. I try to learn from my mistake from that last play just to get better. I'm happy. This is the best situation for me. I'm going against that every day. I'm going to get better, I have to."
The learning is not strictly on the field for James, who spoke about how he and Wake continue working together off the field. "Normally it's before practice, we talk a little bit," he stated. "But after practice he'll be like, ‘Hey, I've got your hands up here, you need to do this here.' Or I'll ask him something. But he does a good job of schooling me, trying to teach me the right thing, but when it's in between the lines we're going at it."
As James transitions to life in the NFL, he does have one comfort not many rookies have when they arrive with their new team: their college roommate. The man playing right guard for the Dolphins likewise lined up at right guard for the University of Tennessee, where James was the right tackle. Dallas Thomas, the second year offensive lineman and 2013's second round draft pick for Miami, was initially working at left guard this offseason, but with an injury to center Mike Pouncey and the signing of veteran guard Daryn Colledge, Thomas moved to the right side, and back next to James.
"I was excited," James said of the news of Thomas' move. "Dallas came to me and said, ‘Hey man, they're switching me over to the right side, back like at Tennessee together.' But no matter who I'm playing next to, it's great I'm playing next to Dallas, but we all need to communicate and push each other to get better.
"Dallas and I know each other well, so Dallas can say, hey you need to do this better, and I can say, hey Dallas, let's go, I know you're getting tired but we've got to keep going. So that continuity we have from Tennessee is definitely helping."
The Dolphins are hoping both James and Thomas are able to help the team this year. Miami is looking to put a franchise record 58-sacks allowed season behind them, and the two Tennessee players should be a big part of that.
Three Pro Bowls, one First Team All-Pro selection, over 200 tackles, and 51.5 career sacks should have James as prepared for an NFL season as a rookie can be.