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Mississippi tight end Evan Engram, right, makes a reception in front of Florida State defensive back A.J. Westbrook (19) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Florida State Seminoles

Can A.J. Westbrook fill void left by Derwin James?

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Florida State safety Derwin James is expected to miss considerable time after undergoing knee surgery Monday. The sophomore experienced a cartilage tear in his left knee Saturday, although head coach Jimbo Fisher confirmed there is “no ACL or structural damage whatsoever.”

There Seminoles haven’t set a timetable for how long James will be out, however he’s definitely gong to miss Saturday’s game against Louisville and likely several more. So now, FSU will attempt to slow down rising Heisman contender Lamar Jackson without its best defense player.

Obviously, someone is going to need to step up for the Noles on Saturday. As of Monday, James was still listed as the team’s starting free safety, followed by A.J. Westbrook, who will likely serve as his replacement.

Westbrook is a fellow sophomore from Mainland, Florida. The 6-foot, 186-pound defensive back rated as a three-star prospect and ranked as the No. 23 safety and the No. 59 player from the state of Florida, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Obviously, those attributes pale in comparison to James, who was the No. 1 safety and No. 5 overall prospect for the same class. But that doesn’t mean Westbrook can’t be a serviceable replacement while his teammate recovers from injury.

It’s difficult to assume anything considering he’s only seen limited action during his college career so far. Westbrook played on special teams and was a reserve in the secondary after missing his first seven games. However, he appeared in FSU’s final six and recorded two tackles, including an assisted tackle for loss against Chattanooga.

Again, this is a very small sample size, but it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We could jump to conclusions, but instead, let’s take a look at some video footage of Westbrook in action.

Here’s a look at the highlight video FSU put together for the former three-star safety on National Signing Day in 2015.

 

As you can see, Westbrook has a nose for the ball. He can be best described as a ballhawk who is capable of going across the field to grab an interception. Granted, this is a high school highlight film, so take it with a grain of salt. But Westbrook definitely looks like a defensive back who possesses great natural instincts and a playmaking ability.

He also seems to make great reads on ball carriers and tackles opponents well. Based on this footage, Westbrook should be capable of doing everything you’d expect from a standout safety.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll provide the perfect replacement for James. Those shoes may be too big to fill and Westbrook could be overshadowed. But no one expects him to be FSU’s best player in his first career start.

The sophomore just needs to be serviceable enough in James’ absence and keep FSU’s defense afloat. The Seminoles are loaded on defense and should be able to make up for their flaws at safety with an advantage at other positions.

Still, it will be a difficult task for Westbrook to stop Jackson — arguably College Football’s hottest player — in his first career start. But the sophomore should shine in an expanded role and could have a breakout season playing on a loaded FSU defense.

Can A.J. Westbrook fill void left by Derwin James?

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