Show me a good defense and I'll show you a good inside linebacker. If you can't stop the most basic play in football - a run up the middle - then you're in trouble. Nothing makes an offensive coordinator happier than a defense with a "Pillsbury Dough Boy" middle. Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys have a good defense, and the man running the show at inside linebacker is Bradie James.
When Dallas drafted James out of LSU in 2003, I thought it was an excellent pick. The guy was the heart and soul of the "James Gang" defense at LSU. He was big and athletic, and I thought he would make an immediate impact. Wrong. James was nothing more than a ghost his first year, and a bit player in his second. Last year, however, we saw the Bradie James we were expecting out of college. He lead the Cowboys in tackles and called the signals on defense.
This is the year we see how good James really is; will he continue to be a good, productive player or will he take the next step and get into the elite category? Can he make a name for himself, maybe end up over in Hawaii at the end of the season? Don't forget about the extra little incentive motivating James this season; it's a contract year for him. If Jerry can't get him signed to a contract extension before the season, James will have millions of reasons to elevate his game in 2006.
He's going to get some help from free agent acquisition Akin Ayodele, who already credits James with helping him out in film study of the 3-4 defense. With those two patrolling the interior, if NT Jason Ferguson holds up his end of the bargain, the Cowboys defense should be rock-solid up the middle.
Here's a recent interview with Bradie James from a local Louisiana paper, James was back there running a youth football camp. From the interview:
James: He has created an identity, and that's what he has to do. He has to sell that identity. But to us, he's very personable. You can talk to him about off-the-field things.
And, he's a joker. He loves to joke and he loves to kid. He loves the crowd. If you see a crowd around him, go the other way. You might be the next victim. He will be the last comedian standing.
I see Parcells as coming from the Don Rickles school of comedy.
James: He's tall and should fit into the program and the defense. He creates depth on our D-line right now. He has to learn some plays, but he's strong from what we can see. We've only gone through mini-camp, but when training camp comes, we'll really see what he can do. But he looked better than a rookie in this mini-camp. I can say that about him.