While his new teammates grind through another batch of drills, defensive end Erasmus James works alone - laboring to push a blocking sled across one of the other fields at Redskin Park.
Earlier in the day, he pushed against another person - a member of the Washington Redskins‘ strength and conditioning staff - but now as the afternoon practice creeps toward completion he forces his will upon a sturdy wooden contraption.
James is trying to come back from a second ACL surgery on his left knee in as many seasons. Before he can join his new teammates - the Redskins acquired him from Minnesota for a conditional 2009 draft pick - he must first prove his good health.
“It is basically just about getting ready,” James said. “There is a difference between football shape and just out there running. I am trying to incorporate some of that stuff so it will be a lot easier for me.”
When James isn’t working to strengthen his knee or performing basic, noncontact football drills under the close supervision of the medical staff, he has plenty of time to run.
A first-round pick by the Vikings in 2005 after a stellar career at Wisconsin, James’ injuries have derailed his promising career. He earned Big Ten defensive player of the year honors as a senior despite missing time with an ankle injury.
He started the final nine games of his rookie season with the Vikings and the first two of his sophomore campaign before suffering his first torn knee ligament. After months of rehab, the first game he started in 2007 became his last after his knee gave out again.
Now James has a fresh start and a familiar face to help. Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo worked in Madison, Wis., from 1996 to 2005 and considers James one of his prized pupils.
“I’m looking forward to coaching him again,” Palermo said. “He’s a tough guy and a great competitor. I think he’ll bring something extra to the table for us.”
James said he will be ready for the start of the regular season and would like to get into an exhibition contest soon. That won’t happen until he receives clearance from the medical staff and can join his mates on the main practice field.
“It is definitely frustrating, but I know I am working towards getting better,” James said. “I’m getting where I need to be. I’m just excited that I got the opportunity here with the Redskins to get better and the patience they’ve had with me in bringing me back.”
Zorn’s QB shuffle
Coach Jim Zorn laid out his general plan for his quarterbacks in the team’s preseason opener Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts in Canton, Ohio. Starter Jason Campbell will play one or two series, along with the rest of the offensive starters.
Backup Todd Collins will play the rest of the first half, and rookie Colt Brennan will take over after the break. Zorn expects Derek Devine to play but will reserve the right to let Brennan go the final 30 minutes if he plays well. If that happens, Devine will be the third quarterback to play in the second exhibition game.
More players ruled out
Second-round pick Malcolm Kelly and starting linebacker Rocky McIntosh will not play against the Colts, Zorn said, joining a lengthy list of starters and key reserves not expected to see action Sunday. Kelly has returned to practice since injuring his hamstring last week, but Zorn said he isn’t completely healthy and will be held out.
McIntosh is still recovering from the knee injury that ended his 2007 season in Week 15. The Redskins will be without four linebackers - McIntosh, London Fletcher, H.B. Blades and Rian Wallace - in Canton. A fifth, new signee Alfred Fincher, is not expected to see any snaps.
Zorn said offensive lineman Jason Fabini - who didn’t attend practice Friday afternoon - was excused for personal reasons and would rejoin the team in Ohio.