EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -Even Erasmus James knows he's not back yet.
The defensive end, and former first-round draft pick, will return to the field for the first time in nearly a year on Saturday when the Minnesota Vikings play at Seattle.
He won't wear a brace on his surgically repaired left knee, but he has as many questions about how it's going to feel as anyone.
``I didn't know when I was actually going to be back,'' James said. ``It was definitely a slow process. I just want to go out there, keep working hard and see where I'm at.''
The Vikings are hoping two preseason games will be enough to get him up to speed and back in the defensive line rotation by the time they open the regular season against Atlanta on Sept. 9.
The Minnesota defense sorely missed James last season. He tore ligaments in his left knee against Carolina in Week 2, and the Vikings never were able to put sustained pressure on the quarterback, a big reason they had the worst pass defense in the NFL.
Since Leslie Frazier took over for Mike Tomlin as defensive coordinator, he has made improving the pass rush his top priority.
Getting James, who was one of the most feared pass rushers in the nation when he played in college at Wisconsin, in the mix again would be a big help.
``To have Erasmus back, we're excited and we are just going to watch his progress over the next few weeks and hopefully he'll get to the point where he can help us early in the season,'' Frazier said. ``It's just exciting to have another good football player back on the defense.''
Even with James on the sidelines, the Vikings have already shown signs of progress. Second-year end Ray Edwards has performed well in the starting role and rookie Brian Robison has shown flashes of playmaking ability.
But everyone knows that when healthy, James is the most naturally gifted pass rusher on the roster.
``Erasmus, before he got hurt, was on pace to have a heck of a year,'' safety Darren Sharper said. ``When he got back out there, you can see it in him. He has that ability to get after the passer.
``He'll be a huge boost for us because we know what he brings to the table. Once he gets back, he'll definitely be a big contributor for us.''
Frazier said that James will be the starter at right defensive end when he gets healthy. But James has been cautious with his optimism, preferring to temper things until he gets to test it out on the field.
``I'm just going to go out there this week and just kind of take it one step at a time and see how I feel after it,'' James said.
So far, James has had to deal with the residual soreness that comes with getting back into game shape, but other than that, it's been full speed ahead.
Vikings coach Brad Childress said James has ``been caught in the washing machine'' a couple of times during practice this week, getting tangled up along the offensive line and spilling to the turf. It's something the team has tried to avoid, but it has been good for James.
``It was a good experience for it to happen out here,'' Childress said. ``Trying to stay up, you're tangled and all of a sudden you're rolling. Glad it happened out here and not, for the first time, on Saturday night.
``He's doing some good things out here and, little by little, is trusting it a little bit more.''
Trusting his knee will be his biggest hurdle, fellow linemate Pat Williams said.
``I always talk to him. I told him he's got to get it out of his mind,'' Williams said. ``He's got to just go out there and just play free. He can't worry about that. That's a small thing. He's been working all offseason to get better.''
Now it's finally time to see if that work will pay off, and James can't wait for the first time he has the quarterback in his sights.
``That's what I was brought here for,'' he said. ``And I still think I've still got it so I'm obviously excited to get out there.''
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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