Dolphins' Ja'Wuan James has tough task blocking Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews


DAVIE, Fla. – Miami Dolphins starting offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James is getting the biggest test of his career on Sunday. He must block Pro Bowl pass-rushers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

James, Miami's No. 19 overall pick, will have his hands full when the Dolphins (2-2) host the Green Bay Packers (3-2) at Sun Life Stadium. Peppers will start opposite James at left outside linebacker. But Matthews also moves around in Green Bay's defensive scheme and will get playing time against Miami's rookie right tackle. Peppers and Matthews have combined for 171 career sacks.

It will be up to James to see that those sack numbers don't increase this week.

“I see that as a great opportunity. I’m a competitor," James said of facing Peppers and Matthews. "That’s what I love to do. As offensive linemen, we don’t catch touchdowns. We compete against each other [in the trenches]."

Miami drafted James because general manager Dennis Hickey and his staff believed he was NFL-ready. James had 49 career starts at the University of Tennessee and has answered the call in Miami so far.

James played in all four games for the Dolphins and hasn't missed a snap. According to Pro Football Focus, James allowed just one sack and three quarterback hits this season. PFF rated James the No. 26 offensive tackle (right and left) in the NFL, which is a solid number for a rookie. Dolphins teammate and left tackle Branden Albert was rated the third-best tackle.

Miami has only allowed nine sacks in four games.

“He’s got good poise for a young player,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of James. “I think he’s been good on the sideline. When he comes off the field, I think he can communicate what’s happening. If he did make a mistake, he can fix it.”

Peppers, 34, continues to make big plays in his 13th season. Last week, Peppers returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in one of the most impressive defensive plays of the season.

James, 22, is a dozen years younger than Peppers but looks forward to the challenge of keeping him off Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill this Sunday.

“It’s really amazing. That’s one of the people I watched a lot growing up,” James said. “He’s a great player. I always thought he was a great player and very athletic -- even watching him as a basketball player at North Carolina.

“It’s going to be fun to compete against him. But at the same time, it’s kind of cool to think I’m going to be going against Julius Peppers.”