Andre James heads into the 2021 NFL season with a clear path. He’s no longer fighting for a roster spot or fighting to be the primary backup to Rodney Hudson. Instead, he is now the guy for the Las Vegas Raiders.
The former UCLA tackle was asked to come to the Raiders and play center, a position he had never played before in college.
“At UCLA I never snapped a ball. I played guard for a little bit in spring ball. But I was a tackle the whole time,” James said during Wednesday’s presser. “I didn’t think I was going to play [tackle]. I knew I was going to play somewhere interior because I didn’t think of myself as a tackle.”
He went from being a long shot at making the roster to being the Raider’s main man in the middle of a newly built offensive line. The only thing left is for the 6’4, 300-pound center to hit the field and show everyone that the Raiders were correct in moving on from Rodney Hudson after he was unwilling to take a pay cut. And although it will be the first time the public sees him play, quarterback Derek Carr has already taken thousands of snaps with James.
“He showed flashes of someone with great understanding, toughness. I feel super confident that he is going to do a great job. I’m excited for him because he’s super smart, and I believe he’s a good football player,” Carr said.
The two games we saw James play came in his rookie year. He came in for Rodney Hudson, who went down in Week 8 of the 2019 season against Houston.
James came into that game, played 45 snaps, and looked pretty good considering he was still learning how to play center. However, going into Week 9 against the Lions, things looked different. Andre James didn’t look as strong or quick and really struggled at times. He snapped the ball low three times which led to three separate fumbles. Since then, Andre has taken plenty of reps at center and has got a feel for snapping to Derek Carr. But snapping isn’t all that will be asked of James.
Protecting Derek Carr is the Raider’s biggest goal this year. When protected, Derek Carr plays great. According to PFF, while under pressure last season, Carr was ranked as the 22nd QB in the NFL. When kept clean, he was ranked as the 8th best.
James will be a big part of keeping Carr clean not only from a blocking perspective, but by making sure the offensive line calls are correct. He will need to be aware of the different fronts that defenses are going to line up in, and at the same time, be able to mentally process in-game stunts by defenders.
Although it’s a tough assignment, James has a ton of experience as Hudson did not practice on Wednesdays last year. James was his back up and ran the plays with the first-team offense. Head Coach Jon Gruden, General Manager Mike Mayock, and Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable all saw enough in the young center that they were willing to part ways with one of the league’s best centers. Being the backup to Hudson also helped James grow.
“Rodney was arguably one of the best centers in the league,” James said. “Every day I came in here, I just tried to get a little piece from him and a little information every day. That’s just kind of the attack I still take on the day: just every day getting a little better. Just work on the little things and it adds up over time. You’ll get a little better. Everything I learned from him I’m still using today.”
A lot of expectations have already been put on James. He is replacing one of the league’s best centers. If he struggles, he will be blamed. If he excels, he will be praised. Either way, Andre James will get his chance to prove himself in 2021.
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