Explosive, Dynamic James to Compete for Colts Kick Returner Positions
INDIANAPOLIS – Confidence isn't a concern to Brandon James.
And as James, a kick and punt returner from the University of Florida, sees it, the competition to make the Colts' roster really isn't, either.
Not that James doesn't expect competition. It's just he's had it before – a lot of it, actually.
And he has more than enough confidence he can handle it.
"Confidence, not arrogance," James said during the Colts' 2010 rookie camp this past weekend when asked what it took to make it in the NFL as a return specialist.
"You have to walk the line, though. Confidence, mostly. You have to get back there and feel like you're going to make a play each time. That's what I try to do."
James (5-feet-7, 176 pounds), who signed with the Colts as a collegiate free agent shortly after the April 22-24 NFL Draft, made plays in college on a consistent basis.
And he did so despite some talented teammates providing some difficult competition.
James, despite the presence at Florida throughout much of his career of wide receiver Percy Harvin – an elite-level returner and the 2009 NFL Rookie-of-the-Year with Minnesota – made a significant impact for the Gators as a returner.
James, who started seven games for Florida, set Southeastern Conference career records for kickoff returns (112), career kickoff return yardage (2,718), total career kick returns (229) and total career kick return yardage (4,089).
He also set the SEC's single-season record for kickoff return average in 2007 at 28.0 yards per return.
James also set Florida records with four punt returns for touchdowns and career punt return yardage with 1,371. He is one of just two players in school history to return a punt and kickoff for a touchdown.
Translating that success into the NFL won't be easy, James said.
But he said it's something he can do.
"You have superior athletes all around you," James said, "but the SEC was tough. Each week, you're playing against superior athletes. I feel it's going to be another step, but also, with the competition in the SEC, it won't be that much of a jump."
James, who returned five total kicks for touchdowns in college, was effective enough at Florida that Head Coach Urban Meyer said during his sophomore year James was perhaps the team's Most Valuable Player. That team included not only Harvin, but Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, now with the Denver Broncos.
"I think (James) is phenomenal," then-Tennessee Head Coach Lane Kiffin told reers last season. "I don't know what his real track time was - it's got to be somewhere in the 10.2 (second) range. As soon as you give him any crease at all, he's gone. There are guys that can run fast track times and guys that can carry it over to football, and he's one of those guys. I don't think there's another guy like him, except for Devin Hester."
Said James, "I thrive on speed and making people miss. If I hit a seam, I should be out of there."
The Colts, after releasing kickoff returner Chad Simpson in the off-season and not re-signing punt returner T.J. Rushing following last season, have a goal of improving their return game, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said during rookie mini-camp.
"You know me, I'm not going to try to hide from the facts," Caldwell said. "It hasn't been quite as explosive as we'd like, but the league, because of the speed that you face, does not allow anyone to just blow the top off, in terms of their ability to return the ball up and down the field. . . .
"We're looking to be more consistent."
The Colts, in addition to signing James, also selected Indiana cornerback Ray Fisher in the seventh round of the draft.
"I feel like I can help them out a lot in the return phase," James said. "Competition is not something I shy away from. Each day, you have to bring it at practice at Florida. You have to get better and stay consistent and make plays."
James, who caught 24 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown as a senior, said he worked with the receivers last weekend during mini-camp, and said he would like to contribute there. But he also said, "my first step to getting on the field is as a return specialist.
"I feel like special teams is definitely a big part of the game," James said. "A play can be made each time. I feel like it's just as important as an offensive play or a defensive play. It can change the face of the game in one second.
"I feel like special teams is just as important as offensive or defense. I'm out to prove that point."
The first step to James getting the chance to prove that with the Colts came shortly after the draft. That was when Ray Rychleski, the Colts' special teams coach, called James with a message.
"Coach Ray gave me a call and said I could really help them in the return game," James said. "He would like for me to try to both, kick return and punt return. I'm here to try to get better and get out there and help them. I didn't really come in with any expectations, I just came in to work and try to get better. . . .
"I followed the Colts a good bit and I followed the Colts just because they've been winning and been in the playoffs. It's an area I feel like I can help in, if not making big plays just putting them in good field position. If I can put the offense at the 40- or 50-yard line, the chance of scoring is a lot greater, instead of having to drive it all the way down the field. That's what I feel like I'm here for.
"That's what I'm going to try to do each day, just stay consistent and get better."