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December 8, 2009

Anderson works his way into more playing time with the Panthers

By: Jimmy Robertson

Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers.James Anderson, a former Tech whip linebacker who played for the Hokies from 2002-05, is having a career season with the Carolina Panthers.

When James Anderson stepped onto the field at Giants Stadium on Nov. 29, he saw a familiar face warming up on the other side of the 50-yard line.

David Clowney, a former teammate of Anderson’s at Virginia Tech, was running pass routes and catching passes, as the New York Jets prepared to take on Anderson and the Carolina Panthers.

So before the kickoff, Anderson and Clowney engaged in some verbal sparring, though nothing to be taken seriously.

“We had a few words,” chuckled Anderson, a former Tech whip linebacker. “He knew I was going to try and hit him if he came across the middle, and he kept telling me he was going to outrun me. We did have a few words.”

Clowney and the Jets got the better of Anderson and the Panthers on this day, as New York downed Carolina 17-6 in a rather boring affair. But aside from his team’s won-loss record, Anderson couldn’t be more pleased with how his career is progressing, and more so, how this season is progressing.

Anderson made his second start of the season in the Jets game – and the fifth of his career – and recorded a career-high 10 tackles (six solo). His previous career high of seven tackles came in his other start this season, a loss at Atlanta. He’s already surpassed his career high in tackles with 30 and five games remain in the season as of press time.

The best season of his four-year career is coming largely because of his experience in head coach John Fox’s system and because of a few injuries, mainly one to fellow linebacker Na’il Diggs.

“I’m an older player now and I’ve shown the coaches I can get the job done,” Anderson said. “And we’ve had a couple of guys get hurt. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the nature of the business. When you have an opportunity, you have to step in and step up.”

The Panthers drafted Anderson in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and in his first three seasons, he played mostly on special teams, while serving in a back-up role at linebacker. His efforts on special teams come as no surprise given that he played on a majority of special teams during his days at Tech, along with starting at whip linebacker his final two seasons. He played well in his role with the Panthers, and Panthers officials thought enough of him to sign him to a one-year, $1 million deal this past April.

“I think playing defense and special teams at Tech has been a big benefit to me,” he said. “I was taught the techniques and fundamentals that you need to play at this level and I came here knowing how to take advantage of other teams’ weaknesses. I think that gave me an edge.”

His versatility and intelligence also help. Anderson possesses the athletic ability to play each of the Panthers’ three linebacker spots – not surprising because he was a weight room star in Mike Gentry’s strength and conditioning program – and the intelligence to grasp what all three positions demand.

“When you have the restrictions on players in terms of numbers, you’ve got to learn multiple positions and you’ve got to be effective,” he said.

Anderson had a little help adjusting to pro ball as a rookie, as the Panthers drafted another former Hokie – Jeff King – in the same year. King went in the fifth round, and like Anderson, he still remains with the organization. In fact, King has started every game at tight end this season.

“It’s funny because Jeff and I were talking about this the other day; about how we’ve played together for nine straight years,” Anderson said. “We were in the same class at Tech and we’ve played together ever since.

“It’s nice to have someone there you know, especially your rookie year. You have someone you’re familiar with and you can help each other. Jeff and I both enjoy the game and we’ve enjoyed being around each other all these years.”

Anderson runs into some of his other former teammates on Sundays. In addition to Clowney, he’s kept in touch with good friends Darryl Tapp and DeAngelo Hall, among others. Even today, he admits it’s weird playing against those guys.

“It is to an extent,” Anderson said. “You’re hitting guys that you used to play with. But that’s part of the game.”

Anderson hopes to stay in Charlotte and with the Panthers on a long-term basis. But he knows the nature of the NFL. Salary caps and roster restrictions mean nothing is guaranteed, even for established players.

“I just try to plan for the future,” Anderson said. “If you plan, you’ve got nothing to worry about. In this league, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

“I go in every year and give it everything I’ve got. I understand the positives and negatives. I just let the chips fall where they may.”

Here is a list of former Tech players in the NFL (as of Dec. 1):


Justin Harper – Harper, a seventh-round pick of the Ravens in 2008, spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The Ravens cut him on Sept. 5 but signed him to their practice squad just a few days later and he’ll probably spend the remainder of the season there again.


93 Chris Ellis – Ellis, whom the Bills took in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, was not activated for any of Buffalo’s first seven games this season. He had played in two games so far, recording a solo tackle and an assist in that span.


50 James Anderson – Anderson, a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2006, started in the Panthers’ loss to Dallas on Sept. 28 and recorded four tackles (three solo) from his linebacker spot. He got another start against the Jets on Nov. 29 and had 10 tackles (six solo). He had played in every game so far this season and had 30 tackles (22 solo) at press time. This marks his fourth NFL season, all of which have been with the Panthers.

47 Jeff King – King had started every game for the Panthers at tight end and had caught 15 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Like Anderson, King is in his fourth season in the NFL, all of which have been with the Panthers.


27 Kevin Jones – Jones’ season ended before it started, as the former Tech tailback tore a ligament in his ankle in the Bears’ final preseason game and underwent surgery shortly thereafter. He will miss this season, his sixth in the NFL and second with Chicago.


17 Shayne Graham – Graham starts at kicker for the Bengals and had made 15 of 20 field-goal attempts this season, with a long of 53 yards, and 22 of 23 extra-point attempts. He is in his ninth season in the NFL and his seventh with the Cincinnati Bengals.


27 Nick Sorensen – Sorensen continues to anchor the Browns’ special teams, while also doubling as a backup at both safety spots. He had played in every game so far and had nine tackles (six solo) on the season. This season marks his ninth in the NFL and his third with the Browns.


19 Eddie Royal – Royal starts for the Broncos and placed his name in the team’s record books when he returned two kicks for touchdowns against San Diego on Oct. 19. He returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score with 4:39 left in the first quarter and then returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown with 5:53 left in the first half. He became the first player in Broncos’ history and the 11th player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game.

But his offensive numbers are down this season under new coach Josh McDaniels. He had caught just 31 passes for 282 yards and no touchdowns. He was averaging 24.4 yards per punt return and 11.2 yards per kickoff return. A year ago as a rookie, Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns.


11 André Davis – Davis started the season opener, but suffered a concussion and missed the next two games. He had played in every game since and had four catches for 28 yards. He also returns kicks for the Texans, averaging 23.2 per return, and he had seven tackles on special teams. The second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2002 NFL Draft is in his eighth NFL season and third with the Houston Texans.

76 Duane Brown – Brown had started every game at left tackle for the Texans and continues to play well. The Texans’ first-round pick of a year ago started every game at left tackle for the team as a rookie as well.

52 Xavier Adibi – Adibi is a reserve linebacker for the Texans and had played in every game this season, his second in the NFL. The former fourth-round pick had five tackles (four solo) on the year.


85 Ernest Wilford – Wilford had started five games at tight end for the Jaguars and had played in every game except one, missing a game with an ankle injury. He had caught seven passes for 100 yards. He signed with Jacksonville – the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2004 – after being released by the Dolphins on Aug. 24.


24 Brandon Flowers – Flowers had started every game at cornerback for the Chiefs except for the season opener when he sat out because of a shoulder injury. He had recorded 42 tackles (39 solo) and two interceptions.


64 Jake Grove – The former Tech center struck it rich in the offseason, inking a five-year deal worth $30 million with Miami after spending his first five years in the NFL in Oakland. He started the first 10 games for the Dolphins before missing Miami’s loss to Buffalo on Nov. 29 with an ankle injury.


31 Pierson Prioleau – Prioleau, the longest-tenured former Hokie in the NFL, had played in every game so far this season with his new team, the Saints, who signed him to a one-year, $745,000 deal. The former fourth-round pick in 1999 had 18 tackles (16 solo) while seeing action on special teams and as a reserve at safety. He is playing for his fifth NFL team and is in his 11th season.


26 Aaron Rouse – After being released by the Packers on Sept. 23, Rouse signed with the New York Giants the next day. He had played in nine games with the Giants, starting three of those. He has 36 tackles (28 solo) on the season; 24 of those with the Giants (18 solo).


87 David Clowney – The former Tech receiver had played in every game except for one, missing a game while serving a team-ordered suspension, and he also had started twice. He had caught 12 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown. He also had returned three kicks for 81 yards. Now in his third season in the NFL, Clowney spent last year with the New York Jets as well and caught one pass.


7 Michael Vick – Vick made it back on the field after a two-year hiatus in which he served time for an off-the-field issue. He has played in every game but two so far (serving a suspension) for Philadelphia, which signed him in the offseason. He serves as the backup quarterback and sees a lot of time in special formations. He was 3-of-9 for six yards and he had rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries at press time.

35 Macho Harris – In a bit of a surprise, Harris started the first six games at safety after playing strictly cornerback at Tech. The rookie injured his ankle in the sixth game and missed a game, but came back and regained his starting job (seven starts this season). The Eagles’ fifth-round pick in this year’s draft had 29 tackles (28 solo) on the season.


84 Josh Morgan – Morgan, a 2008 sixth-round pick of the 49ers, had started every game this season and had caught 30 passes for 348 yards, with a touchdown. He also plays on special teams and had four special teams tackles.


55 Darryl Tapp – Tapp, now in his fourth season in the NFL (all with the Seahawks), had played in every game so far this season, starting twice. The former Tech defensive end had recorded 30 tackles (26 solo) on the season. Tapp, who started the final 11 games for the Seahawks a year ago, had two sacks as well.

77 Brandon Frye – Frye surprisingly got released by Miami right before the season began, but he landed with the Seahawks in early September and had played in every game except for one before injuring his neck in week 5. The Seahawks placed him on injured reserve on Oct. 13, which ended his season. He started three games for the team.


22 Vincent Fuller – Fuller played in the Titans’ first three games this season, but he suffered a broken right arm in the third game and underwent surgery. He missed three games with the injury, but had played in four games since then. He had 18 tackles (16 solo), a sack and two interceptions – including one that he returned 26 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo.


23 DeAngelo Hall – Hall, like Grove, secured a financial windfall in the offseason, signing a six-year deal worth $54 million with the Redskins. He had started every game at cornerback before missing the Philadelphia game on Nov. 29 with a knee injury. He had 43 tackles (32 solo) and four interceptions.

63 Will Montgomery – Montgomery, a former Tech center, had played in every game this season for the Redskins, starting three of those. His game action this season marks his first since he played for the Jets in the 2007 season.