James Confused by Lack of Playing Time

Defensive end Erasmus James was expecting a bigger role Sunday against Detroit and was confused when the Vikings pulled their first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin and cited a leg injury as the reason why. Plus, another first-rounder out of Wisconsin got an increased role, along with rookie Ciatrick Fason, both of whom elaborated on their increased playing time.

Remember Michael Bennett being frustrated and confused about his reduced playing time earlier this season?

Bennett was anointed the starter back in minicamp, when head coach Mike Tice said he didn't really see much competition for Bennett when Onterrio Smith was suspended for the season. Now, through eight games this season, Bennett has started only one – the second game of the season.

Count defensive end Erasmus James as the latest first-round draft choice out of Wisconsin to be confused about the status of his playing time.

James was expecting a big role in the Vikings' game plan Sunday against Detroit as the team made the switch back to the 4-3 defense, a set that fits James' natural ability as a pass rusher coming off the edge.

While he had three tackles and started the game, James didn't feel like he got a chance to prove himself.

"Obviously, I wish I would have gotten more time. They thought my leg was hurting me, which it wasn't," James said. "I told them it wasn't, but they kept me out still. At the same time, we got the win and those guys still went in there and performed."

Veteran pass-rushing defensive end Lance Johnstone also registered three tackles, but two of those were sacks.

For James, it was the most time he had registered to this point, but he said there were only a few times that the Vikings used their three-man line, a set which would limit his effectiveness as an edge rusher. The Vikings claimed that James suffered a hamstring injury, but James denied any leg injury.

Despite getting his most extensive action of the season, he was visibly disappointed in the locker room after the game, as his expectations for his role weren't met with the playing time he received.

"We kind of shut him down a little bit to make sure he would be ready to play this week," head coach Mike Tice said Monday. "I put him in at the end of the game and he wasn't as effective as he was in the first half. It seemed to be a real mild injury, but we'll see."


It turns out Bennett was the more productive Wisconsin product on the field Sunday. James applied occasional pressure to Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington, but Bennett finished with his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2003. His playing time increased dramatically when the Vikings were dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries to starter Mewelde Moore throughout the game.

"Just to come in and see the smiles on players and coaches, our owner is happy – that really sets the tone for me," Bennett said. "It's not all about scoring and getting the yardage; it's about the Ws."

Bennett continued to deflect praise to his offensive line, but he was also happy he had the opportunity to finally carry the ball more than five or six times in a game this season. Up until Sunday, his second high for carries was six, with five games in which he had less than four carries.

Sunday he rushed 18 times for 106 yards.

"I just think I need to get into a rhythm, whether it be seven or eight or nine carries, I've just got to get into the flow of the game," he said.

"It definitely felt good to get out in the open field and run around a little bit," he said of his 31-yard run. "I think the (offensive line) guys had the mindset of coming out today and kicking ass and I think they did a good job."

Bennett avoided talking about his expectations for this week, preferring to look for a win instead of talking what kind of a role he may or may not play against the New York Giants.


The other running back getting more action Sunday was rookie Ciatrick Fason. He garnered the first carry of his career and scored on his second rush in the NFL.

"It was supposed to go inside, but I think it was (Cory) Withrow (playing tackle eligible) had his man, and I felt like if I could get to the corner there wasn't nobody that was going to catch me. I just took it to the corner, put on the speed and ran it to the pylon," Fason said of his 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

It was the second straight game this season that Fason saw action on offense.

"Last week I was the short-yardage back, but we didn't get into that position and this week we did," he said.

Fason had five rushes for 10 yards against Detroit, including his 3-yard TD and a 7-yard run on third down. That meant there were three other carries where he averaged no yards. That fact didn't escape him in his overall self-assessment.

"It was a little shaky. I should have got that third-and-1 call, but you've got to rebound from it," he said. "When they put me in the fourth quarter and were trying to run the clock out, I made a good run. So you've got to rebound from the bad things."

Fason wasn't used in any passing situations, but said he was ready to pick up a blitz if needed. He wasn't surprised that Bennett made such a big impact as a replacement for the injured Moore.

"Mike was in a rhythm, and once a running back is in that rhythm you don't want to take him out it. You've got to keep that feeling," Fason said.

"Me and Mike, we talk all day every day. When we have practice, we stay in each other's ears. He would always tell me if he had an opportunity he'd be ready – just give him a chance to be in a rhythm and that's what they did. I was really happy for him."


When quarterback Daunte Culpepper was placed on injured reserve last week, it spurred a number of roster moves and workouts for the Vikings, who promoted running back Adimchinobe Echemandu from the practice squad to the active roster. Before signing wide receiver Kelvin Kight to the practice squad, the Vikings also had workouts for wide receivers Chauncey Stovall (Florida State), Ruvell Martin (Saginaw Valley State) and Kendrick Starling (San Jose State). They also worked out former Vikings cornerback Eric Kelly.

Tuesday, the Vikings signed quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan off the Chicago Bears practice squad to fill their third quarterback spot and released veteran defensive back Ken Irvin.

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