Alec James: It's gone real well. After every practice I am working with (Konrad Zagzebski) on my footwork. The transition is going real smooth because I redshirted last year and most of the teams we played had four down linemen, so I got a lot of reps working at end. It's going good, but I just have to keep working on my footwork, hand placement and all that.
Did you have a choice in the matter of moving to the line?
James: The coaches had a meeting about it and I talked to Coach Aranda. He showed me film of Utah State and Utah where they had a defensive end playing around 245-250 (pounds), which is right where I am. There's a real good opportunity for playing time, so that's when we first started talking about it. I just started gaining weight and working out with the defensive linemen.
Was it hard to add the weight?
James: Not at all. Coach Simon does a great job of helping us take care of our body real well. He knows what stuff to give us to put on weight, like protein shakes and all that. The weight really was the easy part. The film study with the defensive line overall was real helpful. They are a real helpful group, so it really has been a smooth transition.
I am at 250 right now. My goal weight is 255, but 250-255 is all the same. I don't have as much speed as I did in high school, but I can still move around pretty well. I feel like I am carrying it well and it's not slowing me down yet. I might put on a few more pounds to see how my body takes it, but not too much.
Do you feel that's the direction the defensive line is going – getting a little bit smaller but a little bit quicker guys on to the field as opposed to last year with some bigger bodies?
James: Definitely. This defensive line is so athletic and can run fast that we can hang with anybody, I think. We might not be the biggest size wise, but we'll definitely be the most physical and the fastest. That's really exciting.
Do you think the coaches are putting an emphasis with speed on defense to keep up with the offenses that want to go a little faster, play up-tempo and spread teams out?
James: Yeah, that could be it, but overall I just think we have a fast defense. Like I said before, we might not be the biggest, but we'll be one of the best and one of the most physical.
How much of your outside linebacker repertoire be used on the defensive line?
James: There's a lot of footwork that carries over, just like beating reach blocks and going down the line on cutoffs. Footwork wise I really transitioned well. I got a lot of work on my hands, so that helps a lot, too. Every rep I am getting better. I can't sit there and be scared of (left tackle Rob Havenstein) just because he's big. Every rep, whether it's a win or loss, I am getting better going against him because in my opinion, he's one of our best offensive linemen.
How was it being on the scout team all last season?
James: It had its ups and downs. Sometimes getting beat bad, but learning from it. Game days were tough because you wanted to be out there. If I had to do it again I would because I learned a lot. It made the game a lot slower by learning instead of just guessing. I am happy I did it.
Where do you think you gained the most by doing it and where have you come the farthest in the past year?
James: Probably just taking on blocks and using my hands. I never had to use my hands in high school. I just went around people and at the college level I can't do that. Just every day in practice working on the scout team against the first- and second-team offensive linemen, you have to get your hands and your body right, so it was good.
Is pass rushing right now one of your strengths?
James: I think it has always been one of my strengths. I just continue to refine it working with Coach Chad and Warren (Herring). It's been going real well. It's been awhile since I've been able to throw a quarterback down.
What do you think about the depth of the defensive line? The goal is to play a lot of guys and there's not a whole lot of experience right now.
James: I think we are inexperienced, but that sort of is a good thing in my mind because we are all learning together and it brings us closer. If one of us makes a mistake, we go back to it in film, just learn it and go from there. We might have the most experienced guys, but we're learning and that experience will come.
What's it been like working with Warren Herring?
James: He's a real good leader. I wasn't real close with him last year just because I was an outside linebacker. But just watching him work, he's a real hard worker both on and off the field. He's just a good overall person. He's not one of those guys that puts on a show for people. He's a real good guy, a real good leader. He's one of the people I look up to. He brings joy to practice.
What have those mini-sessions with Konrad – a guy who has played that position for awhile – helped you compared to watching film or getting taught by the coaches?
James: The first practice we had I just asked him if we could do some footwork quick because he said when Coach Partridge was here, they did a lot of it (footwork). It's just footwork and taking on zone-scheme blocks, and just learning it. I may not get all the reps in practice, but I got all the time in the world after practice, so I might as well use it to get better with someone who knows what they are doing.
Last year the defensive ends had to do a lot of dirty work and didn't get a chance to record a lot of stats. Do you think this group will be different?
James: I think we'll put up some stats. Warren will put up some stats. I hope to put up some stats. I think stats will go around real well this year.
How close were you to playing last year?
James: I talked to Coach Andersen and we had a long talk. He said it was tough for him to redshirt me but at the end of the day it was the best decision. He didn't want me to waste a year just running down on kickoff and I didn't want to do that either. At the end of the day, I'm glad he did it and I'm glad I was with it. It was hard at first but it was the right choice. Plus academically it's one more year of school being paid for, so I can start grad school once I'm done.