Defensive end Spencer Johnson is out this Sunday with an injured right knee, but defensive end Lance Johnstone's shoulder injury appears on course to be healthy for Sunday's game at Chicago. That means rookie Erasmus James will see more playing time with Johnstone and Darrion Scott at defensive end, a thin spot for the Vikings this week.
James, the Vikings' second first-round choice in April, was inactive for the season opener against Tampa Bay. He played sparingly against Cincinnati and New Orleans, then saw his role increased against Atlanta because of injuries along the defensive line.
In three games, James has just one tackle with three quarterback hurries.
"As each week goes on, the performance gets better and better and better," said Jim Panagos, assistant defensive line coach . "As he gets experience you'll see him getting better and better. As a defensive lineman it takes time. It's a strength thing, schemes are different, and it takes time to mature… It's a long process for young defensive linemen."
James said he slowly is gaining experience, which helps his advancement.
"I'm definitely starting to get it more, but I wouldn't say things are slowing down out there," James said. "Things are getting faster, I would say, because they throw things at you and as you get experience your reaction time gets faster. I'm getting faster and faster at recognizing the schemes and realizing what is going on."
The defensive line has had its share of injuries. Kenechi Udeze is out for the season. Johnstone has missed a game. Johnson has been nicked and missed time. And Kevin Williams' production has notably been down.
"It's been kind of tough with the injuries," James said. "But at the same time we have to crunch down and step it up and do what we've got to do, and that's win."
James' role should be significant will have Sunday, since the health of Johnson was downgraded and Johnstone still isn't fully recovered. The Vikings clearly want to see their first-round pick succeed.
"From the first game to this last game (at Atlanta) I think I'm getting much better," James said. "I'm improving each and every week."
That starts, James says, in practice. "It's the same as I always do… I just go out there and practice and let the coaches do what they need to do on Sundays," he said. "In practice and on the field on Sundays I'm going to go 110 percent."
Sometimes that 110 percent gets James in trouble.
Against Atlanta, James was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds on Warrick Dunn. "It was obviously a mistake," James said Wednesday. "I had my head down and I didn't know where I was."
James was also responsible for the hit that put Falcons quarterback Michael Vick out of the game. Vick missed last Sunday's game with New England and isn't expected to play this week against New Orleans. Vick suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee after he was hit by James right after he threw an incomplete pass.
James Continues To Learn
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