- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON -- He’s a starter, a situational player and a newcomer all wrapped up into one.
It’s not, however -- because he’s a veteran coming into a good defense who knows the coordinator and the scheme, and has an approach that’s prompted new teammates to accept him quickly.
James is the starting inside linebacker who plays next to Brian Cushing, but will leave the field when the Texans shift to nickel, a set they played 40.7 percent of the time last season.
It’s popular thinking that James merely changed his jersey and is doing just what he did in Dallas, where he played for Wade Phillips while he was head coach of the Cowboys.
But James said there are plenty of wrinkles that make this Texans defense different than that Cowboys defense.
“It’s a transition, it’s been work,” James said. “Coming here, I didn’t know any of the guys. Nobody cared about my experience (with Phillips). You’ve got to prove that you can play and be a player guys want to follow.
“It’s been very refreshing for me after being in one place for so long. With a group that’s very tenacious, very hungry, you just fall in line. It’s almost like a rebirth for me from a career standpoint.”
What makes Phillips consistently one of the league’s best coordinators is his ability to tailor his defense to his people, James said. So it’s a mistake to think what’s been built in Houston is simply a copy of what was in place in Dallas.
James said he was actually a bit surprised by the degree of the changes and what they are, but declined to offer even a minor example of one.
When the Texans traded DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, I envisioned Darryl Sharpton taking over his spot. But as he rehabilitated the hamstring injury that ended his season last year, Sharpton suffered a setback involving his hip, and he’s still out of action.
Perhaps, when he’s back, he can nudge James from the field in a short-yardage package. Having missed so much time to push James, though, it seems unlikely now that Sharpton could get into the base defense when he’s healthy, barring an injury to someone else.
“(James) understands Wade’s defense to a T,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s been very positive.”
Second-year defensive end J.J. Watt is currently rehabilitating an elbow injury.
He said James fits right in with the Texans' defense and has instant credibility.
“I think Bradie commands respect right away, because he’s been in the league 10 years,” Watt said. “He knows what he’s doing in Wade’s defense, and we all respect him because he’s a hard worker. We look to him as a leader. Your guy in the middle has to be a leader, and he does that. He has that quality.”