The Florida Gators will be without their leading tackler for the rest of the season.
Billy Napier announced Wednesday that linebacker Shemar James had undergone surgery on his knee after dislocating the kneecap on Saturday. James played through pain for most of Florida’s contest against Georgia, but now he’s on the shelf for at least four months.
“He’s done,” Napier said. “He had surgery today, and he’s out. He’ll be back for spring practice. This will be about a four-month deal. Ultimately, this is much like a shoulder dislocation. It’s a kneecap dislocation. It happened to him in high school. It’s an injury he’s had before.
“Much like when a shoulder comes out, if it comes out again, you’ve got to get it fixed. Everything went well with the surgery. It won’t be a major factor long-term for him.”
James is the team’s best inside linebacker without question. Pro Football Focus gave him a 68.9 defensive grade over nearly 400 snaps this season, including grades of 72.0 in tackling and 75.2 in coverage.
Replacing him won’t be easy. Scooby Williams is the team’s other starting inside linebacker with 308 snaps played, but PFF gives him a 52.9 defensive grade. That’s not exactly a 1-to-1 replacement, but figuring out the second spot might be the bigger problem.
Ohio State transfer Teradja Mitchell and junior Derek Wingo are next up on the depth chart, but neither has shined so far this year. It’s worth noting that both have a defensive grade higher than Williams, but they are also around 100 snaps apiece.
Much like the rest of Gator Nation, Billy Napier is eager to see which one of the trio steps up.
“It presents great opportunity for those other three guys, and they’ve all had good weeks,” Napier said. “Certainly, we’ll lean on Scooby and Teradja to go along — that leadership, communication component. Those three guys. Wingo has some experience, and certainly, Manny (Nunnerie) has played a lot of football. Jaden (Robinson) has shown a lot of promise.
“This is another week in college football. Very rarely do you run out there with all 22 starters.”
But the on-field achievements are just one aspect of James’ impact on the field.
“Shemar’s been outstanding,” he said. “He’s our leading tackler. More than that, Shemar is a great example — his practice habits, his character. He’s developed a voice. That’s the thing in particular, as of late, he was really getting comfortable from a leadership standpoint with being vocal.”
Florida’s first contest without James will be at noon on Saturday against Arkansas.