James said he learned a lot in his first year on the job, especially in dealing with distractions.
"Last year was kind of complicated with a lot going on, a lot of issues," he said.
"It's my second year, so much more is expected now. From my position, you definitely do have to be disciplined, but from my side, the right defensive end, which is the rush end, basically every time you just get down in your stance and go. … You can just let it go. You just get down in your stance and you don't have to worry about much, about what they've got on offense. You get your defensive call, get down in your stance and go. Just get to the ball."
In 2005, James finished tied for fifth among rookies with his four sacks, but he didn't start his first game until Nov. 6 – when the Vikings came out of a spell from using the 3-4 defense and returned to the 4-3 scheme.
For a guy who didn't play football until his senior year of high school in Hollywood, Fla., the changes in schemes and coaching staff, as well as some new teammates, could be overwhelming. James, however, said his experiences from his rookie year will help guide his progress in 2006.
"There were a lot of learning things (as a rookie), but the biggest one was just staying focused because there were a lot of things going on, a lot of issues, a lot of people behind you, a lot of people that want to step up and play, so you've just got to focus on what you want to accomplish and just go out there and do it."
Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin brings a different approach to both the scheme and the intensity, and he likes what he sees from James.
"I can't question his pedigree," Tomlin said. "He's a big athlete; he has all the physical tools in the world, but like a lot of guys going into the second year, he needs to work on the skill-development element of it. He's doing so."
Tomlin said he views James and left defensive end Kenechi Udeze as a one-two punch in the mold of Julius Peppers and Michael Rucker – high praise indeed in comparing them to the talented Carolina Panthers duo.
After only five sacks between them – Udeze started only two games before suffering torn cartilage in his knee – the two obviously have to develop to live up to the comparison, but James said part of the change will be in the intensity of their work this offseason.
"We've picked up our intensity from the end of last season," James said. "With the new coaching staff, we pride ourselves on getting to the ball as fast as we can no matter if you mess up or whatever – just get to the ball."
That's been a big emphasis in the two minicamps the Vikings have had so far in April and May. The coaching staff under head coach Brad Childress has tried to instill a more focused, conditioned and disciplined approach to the offseason workouts.
"I think everyone's excited about the new coaching staff. No one is upset about them at all. We know what they're here to do and what they want to accomplish. They have track records on what they want to accomplish and we'll follow because they know how to get us to the big dance," James said.
For the defensive linemen in particular, that means a different style of coaching – "more discipline, more technique. Definitely more technique," James said.
Which, combined with a more stabilized role where he stays at right end, leads him to believe that 10 sacks isn't out of the realm of possibility for him this year.