James grows comfortable as starter on offensive line


The first-game jitters long have passed for rookie offensive lineman John James.

Actually, James played so well in his first Canadian Football League game -- two weeks ago in San Antonio, he started at left guard, replacing Mike Withycombe, after Withycombe replaced the injured Nick Subis (cracked ribs) at center -- that his nervousness didn't show.

In his second start last week, James' pass protection of quarterback Tracy Ham and his run blocking in Baltimore's 43-7 rout over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers drew high marks from coach Don Matthews. Tomorrow, against the Birmingham Barracudas, James will make his third consecutive start.

"I'm trying to get better every day, trying to get used to working with Mike and Shar [Pourdanesh, left tackle]. We're learning together," James said. "I've got a lot of improvements to make, but I think I've done a decent job.

"At first, it was kind of like I was on eggs. Now, I'm letting my aggressiveness show a little more. I've had a few blocks that I've gotten excited about."

One of James' best efforts against Winnipeg went for naught. On a second-quarter counter play, his block helped give running back Mike Pringle the opening he needed to begin a 70-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the score was nullified by a holding penalty.

James, 6 feet 3, 300 pounds, has come a long way since training camp. Matthews moved him to guard after a rough tryout at tackle.

"He's playing very well," Matthews said of James, who was a three-year starter at Mississippi State, before unsuccessful NFL tryouts with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 and Atlanta last year. "He's definitely a strong inside player for us. His run-blocking is the strongest part of his game, and he's getting better as a pass blocker."

Orlando to get look

Five weeks after joining the Stallions' practice squad, rookie wide receiver Mark Orlando (Towson State) is moving closer to getting a live audition on the active roster.

Orlando is one of eight practice roster players who will accompany Baltimore on its three-game trip to Birmingham, Edmonton and Calgary. Matthews said he doesn't expect Orlando to play on the trip, although injuries could alter that plan. Either way, Matthews wants to see what Orlando can do under game conditions.

"We've got to get a look at him down the road," Matthews said. "He does some good things in practice, he's very bright, he seems comfortable, but Mark is still an unknown quantity. We never go full speed [in practice], and we've never seen him play full speed at this level."

Orlando, who had an abbreviated tryout with the San Francisco 49ers in June, was signed by Baltimore four weeks into training camp. That put him considerably behind the team's established receivers, yet Orlando is making up ground. Over the past week, he has worked increasingly with the team's first offensive unit.

"I'm getting a lot of reps this week. I'm comfortable now going with the first group," Orlando said. "The guys have accepted me. The coaches have worked with me. It's good to get noticed. I just have to wait for a crack.

"It's not hard being patient at this point," he added. "You come out, practice for a couple of hours a day, you lift, then you go to the pool to cool off. Today, I'm going to play golf. It's not exactly a tough life."


The Stallions were due to arrive in Birmingham in time to practice there this morning. . . . Third-string quarterback Dan Crowley missed his third straight day of practice with the flu, but he was expected to accompany the team to Birmingham.

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