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  1. Sports

Injury to safety Derwin James a huge blow for FSU

The only good news No. 2 Florida State learned Monday about Derwin James was that his injury could have been worse.

The Seminoles' star safety won't play in Saturday's top-10 showdown at Louisville after tearing cartilage in his left knee during last week's 52-8 win over Charleston Southern. Coach Jimbo Fisher said James sustained no structural damage, and how long he is sidelined depends on what repairs were necessary during Monday's surgery.

"We'll do whatever's best for him," Fisher said.

James' absence is a serious blow to FSU's defense and, potentially, to the 'Noles' national championship hopes.

Sports Illustrated dubbed James the No. 10 player in the country, regardless of position, during the preseason. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound James has the frame of a linebacker, which explains the 91 tackles he had last fall as a true freshman. He has the speed of a defensive back, which helped him snag his first career interception in the season-opening victory over Ole Miss. And he has the power of a defensive end, which is how he recorded 4½ sacks last year and made highlights by plowing over a Gators offensive tackle.

All of that made the Haines City native the perfect antidote for the No. 10 Cardinals and their dynamic quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

Jackson's legs are as dangerous as his arm; he ranks third nationally with 318 rushing yards and eighth with 697 passing yards. His hurdle on a 10-yard touchdown run last week against Syracuse is the early frontrunner for national play of the year.

James seemed perfectly suited to try to stop him. James spends some drills with defensive ends and can line up on the line of scrimmage, but his speed allows him to chase down athletes like Jackson that other ends cannot; he tackled Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson twice last year and stuffed Houston's Greg Ward Jr. twice in the Peach Bowl.

But James could also start at the line of scrimmage and drift back into pass coverage, or blitz from the secondary. The numerous possibilities made him nearly impossible for opposing quarterbacks and coordinators to figure out, until he was carted off Bobby Bowden Field on Saturday.

Fisher said his 'Noles have several options to try to fill James' void, through diverse packages that spotlight versatile talents like defensive backs Levonta Taylor and Trey Marshall, linebacker Matthew Thomas and Dade City native Jacob Pugh, who can play linebacker or end.

But none of them can do it all like James, the talent Fisher calls "as good a defensive player as there is in this country."

"Hopefully we'll get that worked out," Fisher said, "and he'll be ready to go."

Fisher didn't want to put a timetable on James' return, but the guesses he threw out — 2-6 weeks, or more — are interesting.

Two weeks would mean that James will miss next week's potential trap game against USF at Raymond James Stadium. Six weeks would keep him out of two challenging ACC contests (North Carolina on Oct. 1 and at rival Miami the next week) plus Wake Forest.

Anything beyond that would jeopardize James' status for the colossal Oct. 29 matchup against No. 5 Clemson in a game that should have major College Football Playoff implications.

Assuming the Seminoles can survive this week without him.

CALLAWAY QUESTIONABLE: Florida coach Jim McElwain said he is a "little nervous" about the status of standout receiver Antonio Callaway, who injured his quad during last week's blowout win over Kentucky.

McElwain said Callaway would not practice Monday for the No. 23 Gators, but he did not know about his availability for later in the week or Saturday against North Texas. Another receiver, true freshman Tyrie Cleveland (hamstring), will be out.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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