Speedy James rapidly climbing UL depth chart

True freshman cornerback Craig James has rapidly climbed the depth chart since preseason practice started last week. A 5'10, 160 pound speedster from Florida, James has proven he can make plays on the edge on the Cardinals defense. Can he crack the two-deep before the season-opener? InsideTheVille.com spoke with assistant Joe Whitt about James' progress.

University of Louisville freshman Craig James has opened some eyes during the first week of preseason practice.

James, a 5'10 cornerback, is one of the fastest members of the team. Possessing blazing 4.3 speed in the forty, James has quickly risen up the depth chart this summer because of his playmaking ability on the edge of the Cardinals defense.

A grey-shirt, James enrolled at U of L last January and took participated in spring drills. Since the spring, James' improvement has been noticeable. During the first week of practice, James has broken up numerous passes and had an interception Monday morning while covering veteran wide receiver Harry Douglas.

At just 160 pounds, James is on the thin-side for a Big East corner. Still, he's one of the team's most fierce competitors and hasn't shied from a challenge on the practice field.

"So far he's done a great job," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.. "I've been very pleased with the way he's competed. He's a lot like Rod Council. He's not afraid and nothing shakes him. So I'm going to give him a chance."

And don't think his weight – or lack thereof – will be a factor on whether or not James sees game action this season. Whitt said the he's looking for guys that can make plays on the field, and, through the first week of practice, James has proven he can do just that.

"He's a little light, but as long as you go out there, compete and make plays, we're going to put you on the field," said Whitt.

In fact, James, who made 72 tackles and four interceptions as a junior at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida, might be the team's biggest surprise heading into the 2006 season.

"I knew he had ability, but I didn't know he'd pick up the system as well as he's doing and understanding what's going on," Whitt said. "I am surprised he's doing so well so early. I have nine corners and he was No. 9 when we walked out here last (week)," Whitt said. "He's worked his way up to probably No. 4 or No. 5 right now."

That means James is close to cracking the two deep in a secondary that returns virtually everyone from last year's team.

"He's a tough kid," Whitt said. "He's a competitor. If he gets beat, he's not going to get beat the next time. Sometimes you just have it in you. And he's one of those kids that has it in him and says ‘I'm not afraid of being on that island by myself. I want the ball to be thrown to my guy because I'm going to make a play on it.'"

Though he still makes mistakes, James' speed and quickness allows him to compensate.

Case in point: While defending fellow freshman wide receiver JuJuan Spillman during Monday's practice, James initially broke the wrong the way on a deep post-pattern but still managed to recover in time to break up the pass. Those on hand to see the play develop from the sideline certainly came away impressed.

"He's not doing every right technique-wise," Whitt said. "He's undercutting some routes but he's not giving up on anything. So if the ball isn't properly thrown, he's been able to make a play. He's fast. He has the speed that gives him a chance to (make plays)."


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