The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Sports

August 9, 2010

Return on investment

Undrafted James hopes to excel on special teams

ANDERSON, Ind. — Patience is a virtue return specialists must possess, according to Indianapolis Colts rookie Brandon James.

“When you try to force it, and try to make a play, that’s when bad plays happen,” James said after Monday morning’s practice. “Just try to be patient, and when you get your opportunities, make the best of them.”

James was patient through all seven rounds and 255 picks of the 2010 NFL Draft, but he never heard his name called.

He was patient during a senior season at Florida that began with talk of replacing Percy Harvin in the high-powered Gators offense and ended when an injury forced him to miss the Sugar Bowl.

In between, he carried the ball just 20 times for 109 yards and caught 24 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown.

He also took a kickoff return 85 yards to the end zone for the fifth special teams touchdown of his career.

The other four came on punt returns, and that’s where he was lined up Monday for the Colts.

As a college free agent, James was looking for a franchise with a chance to win and a need in the kicking game. Indianapolis offered him a chance to compete for a job, and he leapt at it.

“It’s just a great organization, their winning tradition,” he said. “The coaches really showed interest, and that was what I was really looking for.”

James was part of two national championship teams at Florida. So he’s used to the high expectations that come with the horseshoe on his new helmet.

He’s also well aware of the fact Indianapolis ranked 18th in the NFL with a 22.2-yard kickoff return average last year. The punt return team struggled even more, ranking 28th with a 5.2-yard average.

James is part of a mix competing for a return job with fellow rookies Devin Moore and Ray Fisher. Veterans Jamie Silva and Sam Giguere also are in contention, and even wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez has fielded the position in some drills.

“The big thing is we’re trying to evaluate them on whether or not they have the hands to catch it consistently, and once they catch it and secure it can they do something with it?” head coach Jim Caldwell said. “We probably won’t get a good look at that until we get started in terms of preseason (games), but we’ve been taking them through the phases of it — punt return, kickoff — and we’ve got some young guys back there who are handling those chores. So it will be pretty exciting to have the opportunity to see them in a ballgame.”

That will come Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers.

James admitted it’s hard to show the coaching staff what he can do in drills that often do not involve full contact. He plans to make the most of his chances against the 49ers.

“For me, it’s going to be big,” he said. “My first time being on an NFL field. I’m just going to be ready for it, just try to stay relaxed and just let the game come to me. The big plays will come when they’re supposed to.”

Even if those big plays do come, however, James realizes it’s going to be hard to make a 53-man NFL roster solely as a return man.

Versatility is the coin of the realm in today’s NFL, and the Colts value it as much as any franchise.

James worked primarily as a running back in Florida’s spread-option attack, but he’s listed as a wide receiver in Indianapolis. He said the adjustment hasn’t been easy.

“It’s kind of a challenge, me coming from being a slot guy with more of a running back role,” he said. “It’s a little difficult, but I’m just learning from guys like Pierre (Garcon) and Reggie (Wayne) and Austin (Collie). Working with (quarterback) Peyton (Manning), it’s a little challenging. So you’ve just got to come out each day ready to go.”

At 5-foot-7, James has been forced to prove himself at every level.

He never expected the NFL to be any different. He’s just happy he landed with an organization like the Colts, where draft status and contract terms take a backseat to on-field production.

“That was the main thing they stressed was once you’re here it doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much (money) you make as long as you just work hard each day,” he said. “That was big for me because I’ve kind of always been like the underdog guy. So working hard and earning my spot is not really a big deal to me.”

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