Determinations Still Needed on D-Line

The Vikings have essentially set three of the four starters on their defensive line, but they need to figure out how far along Erasmus James has come and who can provide depth up and down the line. See what defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier wants to get out of Thursday night's preseason finale from a defensive line perspective.

In 18 plays on Saturday night at Qwest Field in Seattle, Erasmus James started his comeback from two knee surgeries in the last 12 months.

So how did the 2005 first-round draft pick fare? Apparently the stats don't tell the story because James didn't register a defensive stat. But this preseason hasn't been about compiling statistics for James; it's been about trusting his knee.

"I thought he really did some productive things. He moved around a lot better than I initially thought that he would. It seemed that the more he played the more comfortable he became, so it was a good sign," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "We're going to try to get him some reps again this week against Dallas and just see how he progresses from that point on. The good news is he didn't have any swelling coming back, so that's encouraging, and we don't think there were any setbacks. We'll know a little bit more once he gets back out here and starts running around again. We were encouraged with the reps that he did get."

James was taken off the physically-unable-to-perform list on August 12. Up until then, he had been doing rehabilitation exercises and conditioning on the side field at the Vikings' training camp facility in Mankato.

While his comeback has been gradual, Frazier said last week that James would not lose his starting job because of injury. Still, it appears there are times when he doesn't quite trust the repaired the knee, and Frazier indicated that might come with more time.

"As the game went on, he became a little bit more natural in what he was doing and it seemed like there was less thinking and more reaction. That's going to be the key for him, just being able to get confidence to where he can just react and not have to think about can I step with this foot or do I use this arm?" Frazier said. "Just get back into a reactive mode, and the only way that is going to happen is by playing, so we're going to play him again this ballgame against Dallas and give him another chance to gain more confidence and for us to be able to evaluate him more on tape as well."

While the starters are only going to play one series, the Vikings hope to get James about 15 plays in their game Thursday night against Dallas as he progresses toward the regular season.

Another player making somewhat of a comeback on the defensive line is tackle Fred Evans, signed the same day James was activated from the PUP list. Evans missed more than a week of practice and one game while resolving legal issues in Florida. His fourth-quarter appearance against the Seahawks was the first look in the Vikings defense for the 2006 seventh-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.

With his limited amount of practice time and conditioning with the Vikings, Frazier said Seattle's cooler weather conditions were ideal to get a look at Evans, the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who is still working himself into playing shape.

"For his first time getting out there and limited practice reps, we thought he did a pretty good job. The big thing now is this week we are going to increase his reps in this ballgame, along with what he does in practice, so we'll probably get a better barometer as to exactly where he is from this next ballgame, just because he will have had more practice time and we're going to play him a lot more than we did on Saturday night," Frazier said.

It's not only conditioning that has been making his return to the game a measured event. He is learning a new defense with the Vikings.

"He has had a limited amount of practice so there are still some details that have to be worked out with him, but he knows enough where he'll be functional in the ballgame. We're not that complicated, so it's not going to be hard for him," Frazier said. "It's just a matter of getting some repetition, and that's what this week will allow. Although it's a short week, he'll get some reps because he'll practice a lot more because we're limiting the number of reps we're giving our starters."

Another backup defensive tackle that Vikings want to get a good look at is Howard Green, a third-year pro who started 12 games in 2004 with the New Orleans Saints.

"He is a guy that is in the mix and we want to be able to take a good look at him … So we've got a number of young guys that we want to be able to get some reps for in this ballgame, and still be able to put some NFL tape together," Frazier said. "It's an important time for them, and as I mentioned earlier, we've got some guys that are still trying to make this team. We've got some people that we want to look at and just see how they progress over this four-quarter game."

The Vikings this week also named Kenechi Udeze their starter at left end. Last year, when Udeze moved from left end to right end after James' injury, the former USC standout became the poster child for the team's lack of sacks. The entire team garnered only 30 sacks, and Udeze contributed none to the cause, which makes Thursday's night game intriguing to help determined the depth along the line.

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