In the rookie's first regular-season start, James had to block New England Patriots defensive ends/outside linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Donte' Hightower. These are solid players on a good New England team. Miami's first round pick (No. 19 overall) proved to be NFL ready with a solid debut in the team's 33-20 victory over the Patriots.
James and the Dolphins' offensive line only allowed one sack and created big holes in the running game. Miami won at the line of scrimmage and produced 191 rushing yards against New England. James was part of that success and received praise from his coaches on Monday.
"There's obviously a lot of work to be done, but I thought overall it was solid," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of James. "He didn't look confused out there. He wasn't tentative very often. There were a number of things fundamentally that we would like him to do a little bit better. I thought his play speed was good for the first time, so I thought it was a positive start."
The Dolphins drafted James in May because they thought, as a four-year starter at the University of Tennessee, he was one of the most NFL-ready offensive linemen. Miami completely remade its offensive line and James was considered a prospect who could start right away. The Dolphins have five new starters on the offensive line this season and could not afford to wait for their first-round pick to develop on the sideline.
James' work ethic and professionalism have been two things that has contributed to his improvement.
"What stands out is the look I saw in his eyes before the game and halftime, and after the game," Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "He looked to me like he belonged. He's got a lot to work on and he'll get better. He's a very smart player. Football is very, very important to him and he'll get better fast."
Miami's coaches put James on an extensive plan this summer. He got first-team reps from the first day of training camp and played more snaps than any offensive lineman during the preseason. All of this was done to get James ready for the regular season, and the early results Sunday were solid.
"When you have a young player, you are always looking for development over time," Philbin said. "The hope is, OK, this week, he gets three of four more practices, he gets 75 more snaps in a game, he's going to continue to get better and better and better."