Familiarity Breeds Confidence with Linebacker

In 2005, playing along side seasoned veterans Dale Robinson and Jamar Williams, Robert James was clearly the most inexperienced among the starting linebackers. Fast forward one year and the former Maryvale High School star is the undisputed leader of this group. Nevertheless, feeling more comfortable than ever hasn't led to a sense of false security with the junior.

Once the pads have come on in spring practice, the 5-11 225 Robert James has been feeling right in his element. It's hard not to be impressed by his sure tackling and aggressive play on the field. "It's good getting out here and hitting now," said James following the second day of spring practice in pads on Saturday. "We did all the spring conditioning with lifting and running 40's, and now it's time to hit."

James collected 36 total tackles last season, which were six times the output he had in 2004 – the first year he played for Arizona State. Last season, he was battling Matt Fawley for the starting outside linebacker WILL position. Fawley, who quit the team last spring practice, paved the way for James to claim the starting job. The junior took advantage of his opportunity, and played well, although was struggling to provide solid contributions game in and game out.

"I was inconsistent," he admitted. "I started off at the WILL, then moved to SAM, and then to MIKE. But this year I will stay at WILL. Last year I knew the defense, but this year I know it even more and I'm calling out all the fronts. I'm expecting a good year for myself."

The WILL position, has been described in the past as hybrid between safety and linebacker. James was recruited by the Sun Devils as a safety, which coupled with his high school experience made the transition to linebacker a smooth one. "The position is kinda like a safety," James explained. "You blitz a lot and do some cover. But this is not a safety position – it's a linebacker (smile). You have to take on offensive linemen, be in the trenches with your defense line…it's definitely a linebacker position."

"In high school I played safety, but I always cheated down into the box," James continued. "So when they moved me to linebacker, I actually felt more comfortable playing that position than safety."

The linebacker group returns four players, who for the most part have modest playing experience. James, the lone returning starter, isn't concerned about that fact and feels that another year under the belt of defensive coordinator's Bill Miller's scheme, can only help his unit. "I think we'll be all right," he claimed. "Last year, the defense was new to everybody. Last spring, myself and Beau Manutai were second string and we were getting yelled at all the time, because we didn't know anything (smile). The first day of spring practice this year, we came out and we're calling out the plays and everything is good. We understand the defense better, and we're gonna have a better year."

James pointed out that his understanding of how to read opposing offenses and executing correct gap assignments, are the key areas in which he improved from last year. With five talented newcomers set to arrive in the fall, the linebacker knows that keeping his starter position won't be handed over to him by default. "I'm here to stay as a starter," he commented. "I'm not saying ‘no one is gonna take this position from me' and I'm gonna work hard in the spring and all summer to keep it. I'm gonna add some weight and work to prefect that position."

Playing for the hometown Sun Devils, has been a great experience for James. That being said, he wasn't the only one anxious to get more playing time during his early days with the maroon and gold. "When I sat out because I was redshirting, my family was coming out to the games and asking me ‘how come you're not playing (laughs)?' The next year, I played on special teams and a little linebacker, and last year I played more and made more plays, so I'm looking to do a little more this year."

As the leader of the linebacking group, James is poised to do actually a lot more for his team. If he continues his development, his friends and family aren't the only people in the stands, who will be impressed with his contributions on defense. The next year is usually better than the last one, and Robert James would love nothing than to find that theory materialize with his play.

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