ALAMEDA – The Raiders haven’t told Cory James how much middle linebacker he’ll play Sunday at Tennessee, but it’ll certainly be more than his time in a Week 2 loss to Atlanta.
Head coach Jack Del Rio wants to see more of the sixth-round rookie from Colorado State, especially at a spot where Ben Heeney has produced mixed results.
“He’s just a guy that [is] kind of a ball magnet,” Del Rio said. “He’s around the football, he’s physical, he’s fast. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, doesn’t have a lot of experience but we like his upside.”
Ball magnet is a flattering term, one that James enjoys. It also fits. He had 230 tackles including 41 for a loss, 24 sacks, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in college.
Del Rio said James created three turnovers in one practice last week.
“It’s an instinct thing,” James said. “I’ve been doing that a long time, putting effort into trying to find the ball. It’s been working out pretty good.”
When he was drafted, general manager Reggie McKenzie said he’d have to earn his paycheck on special teams. His energy and effort have put him in position to contribute right away on defense.
That was a minor surprise he’s adapted to the middle linebacker spot so well after playing off the edge most of his life. He was moved to the middle for a stretch as a senior, and improved steadily during that experience. That primed him for this endeavor.
“It took some time to grow on me since OTAs and everything, but I think I’m getting more and more comfortable with it,” James said. “…I’m still learning, still working to get more comfortable with recognizing formations and things like that, but I still need work there. Playing and knowing the plays, I am pretty comfortable with that.”
James doesn’t know how much he’ll play, or whether he’ll platoon some with Heeney in the middle. Facing a physical Titans attack, one with a mobile quarterback and powerful rushers is no easy task for anyone, especially a young player trying to impress. “I’m going to step up to the challenge,” James said, “and hopefully perform well.”