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Former first-rounder James looks to catch on with Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- The mere thought of Jason Taylor and Andre Carter charging from opposite ends on third down is enough to give a quarterback a headache. Imagine how scary the Washington Redskins pass rush could be if Erasmus James can stay healthy.

James passed his physical and was activated from the physically unable to perform list Monday. After three weeks of doing rehabilitation exercises on the side, the former first-round draft pick from Wisconsin was finally able to don a helmet and take part in his first Redskins training camp practice.

"All I know is that in the past when anything's been taken away from Erasmus, he's always come back with a vengeance," said Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo, who was an assistant at Wisconsin when James was chosen as the Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2004. "And that's the plan. He needs to come back with a vengeance, wanting to establish himself as a good football player in this league."

James was on the field for individual drills, putting his strength to the test at the blocking sled and testing his agility by running tight circles around a giant red hula hoop. He didn't take part in the 11-on-11 session and probably won't be ready to play Saturday against the New York Jets. But the progress he's shown gives hope he can be something close to the pass-rushing threat the Minnesota Vikings imagined when they selected him with the No. 18 overall pick in 2005.

"It's always been 'a first-round draft pick,' and trying to overcome injuries," James said. "It's been pretty hard, but I enjoy the patience the Redskins have had, and I feel like I'm ready to go out there and actually show what 'first round' is."

The Vikings gave up on James after three seasons in which he missed 25 of 48 games and had only five sacks. He tore a ligament in his left knee in 2006, reinjured it last year and failed a physical in May. Minnesota was about to place him on waivers when the Redskins called and offered a conditional seventh-round draft pick, a low-risk trade if there ever was one.

"They have been very patient with me," James said, "and that's something that didn't happen in Minnesota."

That point is debatable -- the Vikings did keep him around for three seasons -- but a more noticeable difference is that James is back to his preferred weight from his college days. He said Minnesota wanted him to play at 275 pounds; now he's down to 261.

"We've seen in the training room and the weight room that desire to get back healthy," Palermo said. "He has definitely overachieved there. We're very hopeful that's going to carry over."

At this point, the Redskins have no idea what they have in James. They need to see him in full pads -- Monday's practice was in shorts -- and then in a preseason game or two. Taylor and Carter will be the stud defensive ends and could have 20 sacks between them, but James could rotate into the game when one or the other needs a rest. He could also move inside to tackle on third-and-long, putting three speed rushers on the field at the same time.

James also will have to compete with role players Demetric Evans and Chris Wilson and draft pick Rob Jackson. Wilson was a surprise last year with four sacks, good enough for third on the team, and the hardworking Evans has quietly amassed a playing streak of 51 straight regular-season games.

"It adds another very good football player into the mix," Palermo said. "I don't want to judge Erasmus too quickly. We've got some other guys who have been pushing for some playing time as well, so it's nice to have that problem."

Notes: Offensive line coach Joe Bugel is absent from the team so that he can be with daughter Holly, who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer. Bugel departed in Redskins owner Dan Snyder's plane immediately following Saturday's win over Buffalo. Coach Jim Zorn said there was no timetable for Bugel's return. "He's got a very, very sick daughter," Zorn said. ... TE Todd Yoder missed practice following the death of his grandmother. ... DT Lorenzo Alexander was absent because his wife was having a baby. ... Rookie WR Devin Thomas took part in a full practice for the first time since his hamstring injury during the first week of training camp. Zorn said Thomas could make his preseason debut against the Jets. ... CB Shawn Springs sat out with a tight calf muscle. ... The Redskins waived DE Kevin Huntley and plan to re-sign DE Dorian Smith.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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