In the midst of monitoring numerous positional battles throughout the team, the Vikings will be keeping a close eye on rookie defensive end Erasmus James tonight.
James, the NFL's 18th overall selection in the 2005 draft, played in his first preseason game last Friday against the New York Jets. After ending a holdout that lasted more than a week, James wasn't in game shape for last Friday's contest.
"I feel like I was right in there, but at the same time I feel like there is a lot more to go," James said when asked about his conditioning in the first game. "There was a lot more running and a lot of things I could've prepared for."
Head coach Mike Tice mentioned James as one of the players that didn't have their legs in game shape last week. However, this week Tice said things have been improving.
"It's coming. He's lost some weight – he's lost five or six pounds, he's working real hard on his conditioning, he's working real hard on getting lined up correctly," Tice said. "He is just going to get better. Every time we go out there and he works hard, he's going to get better. (He is an) explosive guy. He has great ability, great natural ability. That ability will start to come through as he gets his legs back. We really like him, a great kid too."
As per usual with the rookies, James said the pace of the game was a little faster than he expected, but everything else was about what he anticipated.
James is listed at 266 pounds, the second-lightest defensive lineman on the team next to Lance Johnstone, so intentionally losing weight might come as a surprise. But in James' case, there is a reason for that strategy.
"Right now, I'm just trying to concentrate on what I do best, which is pass rush and get off on the ball," James said. "I've been kind of fluctuating with weight to see where I'm at with what I need to do. Right now, I think what I need to do is just drop a little weight right now in order to concentrate on my pass-rushing skills and as I go along throughout my career then add to my weight."
He is currently listed behind Darrion Scott and Johnstone on the depth chart at right end. However, Scott is only expected to play right end in the base defense. If James can continue his progression as a young professional, he is expected to challenge Kenechi Udeze and Johnstone for playing time as pass-rushing defensive ends. There is also the possibility that Udeze will be used as a pass-rushing defensive tackle next to Kevin Williams if James and Johnstone can effectively apply the pressure from the exterior in those situations.
Although James is concentrating on that pass-rushing role right now, eventually he'd like to become known as a better all-around player.
"I'm beginning to feel comfortable against the run)," James said. "It's kind of hard at this point, being a little bit smaller than all the other guys. But when you get out there, you've just get a feel for it, and once you get a feel for it you just kind of know what your limitations are."
He's also trying to improve on his recognition of the defensive plays being called and what his responsibilities entail on each particular play.
"You've got to know how to get off on the ball on certain kind of schemes and protect the outside, so it's a little bit different," he said. "Some things (he recognizes) instantaneously are not what the defense is calling for, so I've got to learn to stay outside or do certain things that the defense is built to do."
For now, James is building himself into a pass rusher, and the Vikings will monitor his progress in hopes he can live up to the early comparisons to Chris Doleman.
James Working His Plan
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