Redskins Taking It Slow With James

A video dispatch filed from an undisclosed location near -- but not at -- Redskins Park. Today: The Post's Jason Reid sets up this week's OTAs. Video by Jason Reid/The Washington Post
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Defensive linemen participated in drills during organized team activities yesterday at Redskins Park, but recently acquired end Erasmus James was not with his position group. James stood at the opposite end of the field and worked individually with the training staff, continuing his rehab after having reconstructive knee surgery twice in the previous two seasons.

James moved slowly in his first day with Washington, taking small steps in an attempt to regain the form that helped him become a first-round draft pick three years ago. The Redskins acquired James from the Minnesota Vikings last week for a conditional seventh-round pick, and they plan to exercise patience with him, coaches said, hoping he can help fill their need for a productive, young pass-rushing end.

The team did not address the position in free agency or early in the draft, so there is room for James, who is eager for a fresh start after his disappointing experience in Minnesota. The process has started, and the Redskins will monitor it closely.

"If we're smart about it, whatever he's got in his tank, we can get it out of him," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "Where coaches go awry is when they try to take a guy and push him and make him play before he's ready. We're going to let him play when he's ready. If it takes us a little while, we'll have the patience to wait for him to get well. . . . The secret is that if you can get him healthy and keep him healthy, you're going to have a good football player."

James is expected to be at full strength for training camp, which is expected to begin July 20. He is under contract for two more seasons (James has salaries of $695,000 in 2008 and $1 million in 2009), and the Redskins gave up little to get him, so the move could work out well if James recovers and makes an impact.

"The thing that I'm told is that he's at about 90 percent," Coach Jim Zorn said. "I don't even know what that means yet because maybe at 100 percent he's wild. That's what I'm hoping.

"What we're going to do is bring him along . . . and work through the final stages of his rehab. I expect him to be a part of training camp. I don't expect to see a lot out here right now."

Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels are projected as the starting defensive ends. Demetric Evans and Chris Wilson are the primary backups. A contribution from James this fall would be "icing on the cake," Blache said.

The Redskins were among many teams that had James, an all-American at Wisconsin as a senior, among the highest-rated defensive ends in the 2005 draft. The Vikings selected James with the 18th overall pick, and he had four sacks and 28 tackles as a rookie.

During Week 2 of the 2006 season, James tore ligaments in his left knee and had season-ending surgery. And after playing sparingly early in the 2007 season, James injured his knee again and had another reconstructive procedure in December.

"He's a guy I like a lot as a person, he has a ton of ability, and you pull for guys like that," Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "But in our league . . . it's just unfortunate that he's been so banged up. He's had some serious injuries. It's not like a twisted ankle or a hurt thumb or something like that. You're talking about major knee surgeries.

"I really believe that without the injuries, he'd be well on his way to becoming a premier pass rusher. But it's tough in our league. So much is put on being healthy and being on the football field. The way it is today for coaches, as well as players, if you're not successful early on, it puts jobs in jeopardy. I feel bad for him, but that's just the way it is in our league."

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