D.J. James won't be defined by just one play.
The Auburn CB was on the wrong end of 4th-and-31. But he's determined to have a "next-play mentality" as he chases his NFL dreams.
Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze is set to speak with media members down here at the Senior Bowl in Mobile on Wednesday afternoon. We will most likely have some subscriber-only notes from what Freeze said later today, before Auburn basketball takes the floor against Vanderbilt late tonight.
Until then, here’s a story from a great conversation after practice Tuesday afternoon with Auburn cornerback D.J. James — who is getting to play close to home in this premier NFL Draft scouting event.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
MOBILE, Ala. — All great cornerbacks need a next-play mentality.
Cornerback is arguably the toughest position to play in all of football. You’re often matched up against an offense’s fastest weapons. They know where they’re going — and usually where the ball is going — after the snap, but you don’t. You have to read and react, trying to make the most of a tough situation over and over again.
The deck is stacked against you. The rules aren’t in your favor, either. All cornerbacks are going to get beaten at some point. The truly great ones find a way to bounce back. Move on to the next play, the next challenge, the next opportunity.
Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
For D.J. James, he knows he will forever be linked to the improbable ending to the 2023 Iron Bowl.
He was Auburn’s man in coverage when Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe had all the time in the world to fire a Hail Mary to Isaiah Bond on fourth-and-31. From now on, when that touchdown is revisited, there will always be the sight of a No. 4 navy jersey reaching to make a stop that just won’t happen.
James said it took him a whole week to get that play from constantly repeating in his head. He won’t be baited into saying it should have been called offensive pass interference, and he gives all the credit to his opponent for coming down with the ball.
“I mean, it was a great play by him,” James said Tuesday, following his first practice at the Senior Bowl. “You could say it was a push-off, but it was a great play. You've just gotta have a next-play mentality, and I knew I was going to have a chance to showcase myself again. But he just made a great play.
“You've just gotta live with it, learn from your mistakes, get in the film room and go to the next play.”
It takes a lot for a player to be able to rebound from such a negative moment and such a heartbreaking loss.
But if there’s one thing you can say about James, it’s that he’s finding a way to stay positive and looking ahead to what’s next — and that mentality will carry him into what could become a successful NFL career.