Ravens deal with Ja’Wuan James hasn’t performed since 2019 and is studying a brand new place. It’s a problem he’s embracing.

Sweat cascaded from Ja’Wuan James’ brow as he ready to subject questions from reporters after two hours of practising within the ponderous warmth Thursday.

Even this little bit of summer season drudgery felt satisfying to the Ravens deal with after three seasons of absence outlined by hobbling accidents, a pandemic and a contentious breakup along with his earlier crew.

Asked how badly he desires to be a traditional, every-week soccer participant once more, James laughed. “It’s been a journey,” he stated. “But we’re here right now.”

Four years after he performed his final full NFL season, James, 30, finds himself as maybe the important insurance coverage coverage on the Ravens roster, their hedge in opposition to the potential for one other injury-marred season from $98.75 million left deal with Ronnie Stanley.

“I can’t wait to see him in a game,” coach John Harbaugh stated. “He hasn’t played football in a while, so to see him out there with the physicality is going to be important … and really important for him.”

The unavoidable quantity when discussing James’ latest profession is three — his complete video games performed since he signed a four-year, $51 million cope with the Denver Broncos in March 2019.

A knee harm restricted him to 63 snaps in his first yr in Denver, and he opted out of the 2020 season after watching COVID-19 ship a number of relations to the hospital. The subsequent spring, James tore his Achilles tendon throughout a exercise away from Denver’s facility, prompting the Broncos to launch him and refuse to pay his $10 million wage for 2021.

James filed a $15 million grievance in opposition to the crew, and his case grew to become exhibit No. 1 in a dispute between the league and the NFL Players Association over methods to designate accidents suffered throughout personal exercises. The league issued a memo saying such accidents are “non-football” and would usually not set off contract ensures. The union replied with an announcement calling the coverage a “gutless” try to scare gamers into spending extra time at crew services.

The Ravens, in the meantime, swooped in to signal James, an above-average beginning deal with when wholesome, to a two-year cope with simply $500,000 assured. They knew he in all probability wouldn’t play in 2021 however noticed him as a possible asset for 2022.

James declined to debate the specifics of his exit from Denver, saying he’s solely in wanting ahead. “Leave the past in the past,” he stated.

He described his restoration from Achilles surgical procedure as a tedious, lonely time. “It’s a slow process, a very slow process,” he stated. “You’ve got to build a lot of strength. You’ve got to take your time, sit down for a while.”

He began practising with the Ravens towards the top of final season, work that helped him acclimate to his teammates and coordinator Greg Roman’s offense. But he stated he nonetheless wanted extra time to really feel assured in his well being.

Fellow deal with Morgan Moses, who was drafted the identical yr as James, stated it’s no straightforward factor to return again after years away from the NFL routine. “It’s like relearning how to play football all again,” he stated.

When he started to gear up in spring, James confronted one other curveball; the Ravens wished him to play left deal with, one thing he had not accomplished often since his senior yr in highschool.

With Stanley nonetheless on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from ankle surgical procedure, James has taken many of the first-team reps defending Lamar Jackson’s blind facet in coaching camp. He seems to be the No. 1 choice to step in if Stanley’s harm retains him out of video games, with Moses the crew’s projected starter on the fitting facet.

James is lean and shifting properly, although Roman stated he nonetheless wants time to regain his soccer legs.

“He’s moving over to the left side; he’s acclimating to it [and] getting better every day,” Roman stated. “Ja’Wuan has got a lot of talent, and we’re really fortunate to have him. For him, though, having not played a year, we fully expect there to be a slight acclimation period for him as he works himself back into tiptop playing condition.”

A 2014 first-round choose who began 62 video games in 5 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, James appeared to enter his prime within the final yr of his rookie contract, when he allowed a career-low 26 pressures, in keeping with Pro Football Focus. Coaches praised his uncommon bend and suppleness for a 6-foot-6 deal with, and he was one of many high linemen on the free agent market going into the 2019 season. Then, he signed his ill-fated cope with the Broncos.

Three years and a significant harm later, Ravens coaches say James hasn’t any of the bodily potential that made him the nineteenth total pick of Tennessee.

“I saw that when I worked him out many years ago; I went to Tennessee when he was coming out,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris stated. “He was very athletic then, and he’s still athletic now and very coachable.”

The Ravens hope James’ pure athleticism will ease his transition to the left facet. At this time final yr, they watched veteran deal with Alejandro Villanueva wrestle on the fitting facet after spending years on the left. It’s not a simple change to flip, even for knowledgeable, proficient gamers.

“It’s like you’re writing right-handed all the time, and now, all of a sudden, you’re starting to write left-handed,” D’Alessandris stated. “It’s all motor skills — development of motor skills — and being comfortable doing it one way. But he’s in the process of working at it, and he’s athletic enough to do it, so I think his progress has been very good so far.”

Harbaugh acknowledged that James would in all probability be happier on his acquainted facet, “but sometimes necessity is the mother of invention,” he stated.

James has impressed Moses along with his composure within the face of a brand new project: “He doesn’t get flustered out there. That’s what you have to be as a tackle; you want a guy that on third down, you know he’s going to be there. He’s going to be locked in.”

James laughed, recalling how a former line coach described switching sides as “trying to wipe your butt with your other hand.” His hips and ft nonetheless really feel odd when he fires off from his unfamiliar place.

“I’m not going to lie; it was frustrating in the spring,” he stated. “Coming back for the first time in years, I wanted to be at my best. This is a new challenge, but I’m definitely embracing it. It’s an opportunity.”

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