"It is still way up in the air whether or not he is going to play this week," Badger defensive line coach John Palermo said Wednesday.
Early last week, during Wisconsin's bye, James met with reporters and guaranteed that he would return for this Saturday's home game versus Minnesota, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. The contest is the Badgers' last home game of the 2004 season and James' last opportunity to play at Camp Randall.
"I'm not going to miss that game for anything," said James, who was not available for comment this week.
That choice, though, belongs to Palermo, who is concerned that his standout end could further damage his ankle. James, who still leads the Big Ten with seven sacks, has taken part in practice this week but has not been nearly full strength.
"I think it's still about the soreness in the ankle," Palermo said. "The one thing I don't want to do is I don't want to put him on the football field unless he can protect himself, because then he's really going to be open for injury. This is an injury that sometimes takes time but yet he'll be able to overcome. If you put him out there too quickly he's just got a chance to get hurt seriously and I don't want that to happen."
James was injured Oct. 16 when Purdue tight end Charles Davis executed a cut block against him. That blocking technique, while legal, has been scrutinized in the weeks since, more so after a recent NFL game in which Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams was lost for the season when a cut block broke his ankle.
Minnesota is renowned for its use of cut blocking among its talented, experienced offensive linemen. Palermo, though, stated firmly that the opponent's scheme will have no bearing on whether or not James plays this week.
"No, that doesn't play into it at all," Palermo said. "Trust me, if he was ready, his fanny would be out there on that football field. But he's just not ready right now to be able to push off of it like I'd like to see him do."
Jonathan Welsh, Wisconsin's other senior starting defensive end, will play Saturday after missing the Badgers' last game with his own ankle injury, Palermo noted.
"I hate to say it but we can't worry about the guys who aren't playing," Palermo said. "We've got to worry about the guys that are playing. For this game it's going to be Jamal, it's going to end up being Joe Monty, Jon Welsh. It could be Kurt Ware, could be Brandon Kelly, could be Mark Gorman—anybody that we deem needs to go into the game will do it."