The first step.
When talking about most NFL rookies, the phrase "the first step" is in the context of them taking the first step in making their transition to the NFL. When speaking of first-round draft choice Erasmus James, he is being consistently praised for his quick first step when the ball is snapped.
From observations over minicamp and the first developmental camp, that first step really is a doozy for the quick defensive end.
The praise started during his first weekend of team workouts in April. When head coach Mike Tice was asked about James' first step at minicamp, he ended up with a comparison of high praise.
"Dole (former Vikings Pro Bowl defensive end Chris Doleman) had a step like that. I was looking at a couple of plays right before he came down, and he came around the corner on an audible and it was a pass play, a play-action pass play, but he came around there pretty quick. He looked pretty good," Tice said. "I did a little double-check on the number to make sure it was him. I didn't want to give the wrong guy credit."
Director of Pro Personnel Paul Wiggin, not knowing that Tice had made James-Doleman comparison, made the exact same comparison later in May. James doesn't take those comparisons lightly. In fact, he was hesitant to believe them.
"Are you serious? It is pretty big praise," he told Viking Update. "I just want to be Erasmus James and nobody else – do what I've been doing since I've been playing football."
What he did at Wisconsin was improve on his sack total, from seven sacks in his first two seasons to 11.5 last year. He didn't start playing football until late in high school, so how did he get so good with his sacks and his quick first step?
"Hard work and good coaching," James said. "Coach (John) Palermo at the University of Wisconsin, I've got to thank him for that because he taught me the fundamentals of football before I could actually play my game. I always had the quickness and speed, but with the fundamentals he gave me it's much easier to get around to that ball."
"The hands, the hat reads, things like that."
James took a medical redshirt in 2003, but he says he is completely recovered from his college injuries.
Despite his impressive quickness, he isn't taking things for granted. He said he expects to fight for his job, but whether he winds up a full-time starter or rotating on the right side of the defensive line with Darrion Scott and Lance Johnstone, James will almost surely see significant playing time if he remains healthy.
After seven days of full-team practices, Tice's evaluation of James didn't change following the latest developmental camp.
"Erasmus James is what we thought he was when we drafted him. I think you guys were able to watch him practicing and see him making a lot of plays out there," Tice said. "He has tremendous speed, tremendous get off the ball. I thought Kenechi (Udeze) had a very good week also. So, front-wise I like our athleticism."
The overall front, with the additions and maturations of Udeze, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Scott and James, is getting the attention of NFL and Vikings observers. It's a vast improvement in skills and assets from where the Vikings were three years ago, and James likes what he sees.
"You've got guys (like Kevin) Williams, Pat Williams, (Kenechi) Udeze, (Darrion) Scott, they're young guys. We can all build together and learn together, so it's really nice to come into a defense like that, that I think already established themselves, and with the offseason moves the Vikings have made should be better," James said.
He brought up the tradition of the Purple People Eaters during a post-draft press conference, and James said he heard about their tradition in a predraft walk-through at Winter Park. However, talk of building a new version of the Purple People Eaters isn't a factor among the players. They aren't talking about that amongst themselves, he said.
"The thing is, you don't talk – you be seen and not be heard. We go out there and do our job, and if it happens it happens. We're going to damn sure try to make sure it happens," James said.
First Step Gets People Talking About James
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