Maybe that sounds like a curious sort of comment. But give James a chance to explain and expound. What comes clear is here’s a still-developing defensive tackle with magnum force potential as he gets deeper into the game.
Which, James really means, applies to the entire Mississippi State front line. They know their limits right now. Looking ahead? “We know what we can do. And when you’re not playing as well as you need to, we know what’s going on.”
Yes, what is going on? Not so much with the entire defensive line. Ends Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson are each having big years both on the stat sheets and in the highlight shows. The questions come inside. So much was forecast for juniors James and Chris Jones, yet their names rarely arise in post-game discussion.
There’s an answer of course. The big tackles are doing their jobs as schemed so far. By demanding extra attention with inside push, James and Jones and the rest of the rotation tackles are actually opening outside room for those ends to show up and show off.
James is fine with this. The experts are sure to sight them in, he said.
“Oh yeah. If A.J. and Ryan make plays we will be looked at. So I mean we’re going to get publicity somehow out of it.”
They certainly are in blockers’ cross hairs. Now fans also recognize the ballistics James brings with 325 pounds that fills even his 6-5 frame. It even seems these days James gets a bit more slide-support or outright double-teaming than does the better-touted Jones.
That reflects how James has increased the, ahem, caliber of play. “I feel like preseason was a little sloppy. But I picked it up around game-six.” Such as?
“Just get-off, and effort. I’m still having little technique problems. But that’s just comes with time.”
It’s true, James still has a ways to go with the finer points of interior tackle work. But there are enough times where just pulling the trigger and blasting that great big body across wins.
Thing is, his coaches tell James he can hit his targets even harder. He’s listening.
“I would give that to Coach (David) Turner. Every practice, finish the play. Now I’m starting to finish the play. It’s don’t stop my feet. I’m getting closer and closer, man.”
Closer and closer to bulls-eyeing a sack, that is. Last Saturday there were two clear shots at the Louisiana Tech quarterback, with James just coming up a little short on range. One, he pounded a big paw into Scott Field laying prone and watching his target escape.
“He got away, man! That ate me up bad, I shouldn’t have done that. But that’s emotion. I’m a pretty emotional guy.”
No one complained about showing emotion…well maybe other than the groundskeeper who had to fill a fist-size hole in the turf. Burst of practice temper have been an issue over the years here as well.
It’s just James being himself. But, to his credit, James has also worked on not having such a quick trigger. “Well, when I first got here I thought I was Superman. I could just take off flying. Reality set in, I realized this is SEC ball and I just looked at it.
“The next year I sat down (redshirted). The third year I started to use some of the stuff I saw. This year I know this is how you have to do, you have to have great technique and effort to make plays.”
James is making plays within the system already, filling his assigned gap and tying-up blocking. Tackles, even sacks? Those are coming with ever-improving technique and greater effort. James said he’s following the lead of Kaleb Eulls, a Bulldog tackle who exemplified effort.
“I’m getting there. I’m getting there, man. I’m not going to say I’m there but I’m getting there.”
In-turn, the Bulldog front line and for that matter entire defense intend to shoot faster and straighter. There are all sorts of reasons why Mississippi State has fallen into a bad first quarter habit of trailing. And it isn’t all on the defense either, as there’s usually a zero on MSU’s side of the board.
The offense will take care of itself; James’ gang takes aim on their own slow start issues.
“Coach (Manny) Diaz points that out every time on the sideline. He’ll be like we can’t do this, we have to stop this. It takes a touchdown for us to wake up on defense. But as soon as we do, man, it’s tough. It’s real tough.”
Tough on the other team, that is. Because whatever the frustrations so far, there seem no limits to what James, Jones, and the entire tackles roster can achieve. And by the way, what’s twice a .44? Right.
That’d be an 88. Dirty Harry would approve.
(Note: Yes, movie experts and firearms fans, I know. Clint Eastwood’s character in Magnum Force admitted he really used .44 Special loads in his S&W Model 29.)