With Derrick Alexander's season — and perhaps tenure with the Vikings — scuttled after blowing out his knee, the rest of the season could prove to be an audition of sorts for second-year wide receiver Cedric James.
Given the team's won-lost record at this stage of the season, it's become clear that this is indeed a year of rebuilding and not one of competing for a playoff spot. With that in mind, head coach Mike Tice would like to do everything he can to develop as many of the younger players he has as possible.
One such player who might be in the right place at the right time in terms of getting a chance to show what kind of future he might have with the club is James.
A fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2001, James has played sparingly during his pro career because of injuries and inexperience to this point. That might change during the second half of the season.
James has a ton of talent and long-range potential. At a shade over 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds, with speed in the 4.44 to 4.50 range, a 43-inch vertical jump, long (33 3/8-inch) arms and very large (10 1/4-inch) hands, James has near prototype physical ability to become a superb all-around NFL receiver. In short, he's a great workout guy who genuinely looks the part. Now, if that ability can be nurtured into big-time production …
James is a trim, athletic receiver who flashes big-time receiving skills. He shows good burst running his routes. He extends for the ball well and has the toughness and strength to compete for the ball in traffic. He can jump through the roof and tracks the ball in flight. All make him a potentially big target, even when he's covered. He's a strong player, physical player who will hustle to block downfield and isn't afraid to mix it up. He can also make things happen after the catch, has some experience returning kickoffs and in college did a really nice job of covering kicks.
Speaking of college, his development as a receiver wasn't exactly on the fast track while at Texas Christian.
Why? Because one of his teammates at TCU was running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and the Horned Frogs generally ran the ball 75 to 80 percent of the time.
Like a lot of young receivers, his game needs refinement. He lacks some consistency and savvy catching the ball, has to work on reading coverages and he will try to cradle the ball — instead of catching it with his hands — which can lead to some double-catches. He's still developing in terms of being a disciplined or instinctive route runner. But the biggest problem he's had thus far is simply staying healthy. He has had no major injuries, but he's been held back by a lot of bumps and bruises, even going back to his college days.
As a rookie last season, he pulled his right hamstring and spent the entire season on injured reserve. After making significant strides during the offseason and during minicamp workouts, James injured his hand and was basically a nonfactor through most of the preseason. Still, Tice decided to keep him for his upside potential ahead of the far more experienced and productive veteran Sean Dawkins.
From now until the end of the season will gauge the wisdom of that decision. He recorded his first pro reception in the Week 8 loss at Tampa Bay, hauling in a 29-yard strike from Daunte Culpepper.
With Alexander out, James moves into a competition with Chris Walsh for playing time at the No. 3 wide receiver spot.
Tice has had a hard time not going with an early sidelining hook with some of his mistake-prone younger players. But with the playoff picture out of focus his patience will have to be stretched to give these guys a chance to take their lumps and learn on the job. Tice has done that with Nick Rogers at strongside linebacker, and at some point he's likely to give James an extended opportunity, as well.
James' Big Audition
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