Gabe Jackson, who was on James’ right shoulder, said there was no nervousness to be sensed when the converted tackle took over for Rodney Hudson. Hudson, the highest-paid center in terms of average annual salary, went down with a right ankle injury with less than six minutes to play in the first quarter Sunday.
And James? He was happy with his performance and acquitted himself really well in the Raiders’ 27-24 loss to the Houston Texans, a positive sign should Hudson’s ankle keep him out again this week against the Detroit Lions.
“Rod is, obviously, a great player who can’t be replaced, but it’s just the next-man-up mentality and I just went out there and tried to do my best,” James said. “I’ve got some things to clean up but I feel good about it.”
Indeed, the Raiders’ offense did not skip much of a beat with James in the game. At least, not in pass protection.
Not with quarterback Derek Carr kept clean, with no sacks and only one QB hit by the Texans. On the season, Carr has been sacked eight times, the second-fewest in the NFL, and the Raiders’ O-line is riding a three-game sackless streak.
Yes, the Raiders’ reimagined offensive line is a team strength, like it was expected to be. Even if it has been a unit in complete flux thus far due to injuries and Incognito’s two-game suspension to start the season.
Consider: Oakland’s projected starting offensive line of LT Kolton Miller, LG Incognito, C Hudson, RG Jackson and RT Trent Brown started a game together for the first time in Houston, and lasted all of 10 snaps.
Then Hudson, a two-time Pro Bowler who signed a three-year, $33.4 million extension, with $24.4 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $11.13 million, went down on a four-yard DeAndre Washington run. He had to be helped off the field before being carted to the locker room.
That’s when James entered the fray.
“It’s life in the NFL — one guy goes down, the next guy’s got to step up,” Incognito said. “It was ‘Dre’s turn to step up and he played well, man. For coming in in the middle of the game, he played well, we found rhythm, we scored points and that’s just a testament to how much hard work he’s put in and how much (offensive line) Coach [Tom] Cable’s coached him up to get him ready to play because he’s obviously a tackle playing center.
“He definitely wasn’t scared. He came in, he made points, he was confident and that’s all you could really ask of a young guy.”
Jackson was playing in just his second game of the season after suffering a knee injury in a training camp practice with the Los Angeles Rams.
“He was loud,” Jackson said of James. “His calls were confident. You couldn’t sense no nervousness about it and he went out there and gave what he had.
“Those are some big shoes to fill with Rodney, so I commend him for that.”
In his weekly media conference Monday, Raiders coach Jon Gruden said X-rays on Hudson’s ankle were negative but added “that doesn’t mean that we … know the severity of the injury.”
At least the Raiders got a sense of what they have in the 6-foot-4, 300-pound James, who two years ago played on the same UCLA O-line as Miller.
And that has to give Gruden some comfort.
“He did alright, he did a good job,” Gruden said of James. “Really pleased with his communication. He called a lot of the shots. We did a lot of different things offensively in this game. He showcased his preparation. He made some good blocks. He made some good calls up front. I was proud of him.”
Helping James tremendously was getting a full dose of reps with the first-team offense this past Wednesday with Hudson dealing with an ankle injury.
“So, I felt confidence with this scheme and the whole gameplan going into it,” James said. “I’m just ready to work and start winning.”
And if Hudson is indeed out?
“We’ll roll with ‘Dre,” Incognito said. “He’s been getting prepared for this for a while.
“I have full confidence in him to keep the offense in sync and in rhythm and scoring points.”