Not long after Edgerrin James played his first NFL preseason game, someone asked Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian what he thought of his rookie running back.
James had rushed for 77 yards and scored two touchdowns on 10 carries in less than a quarter. On one play, when it appeared he was stuffed, he shot through a tiny hole and burst through the secondary for a 21-yard gain. Fans oohed. His teammates aahed.
There was no mistaking the kid's talent, no doubting why the Colts passed on Ricky Williams and selected James with the fourth pick overall in the April draft. The preseason performance against the New Orleans Saints explained why James was granted a $9 million signing bonus and why he's destined for stardom in the NFL.
"It was nice," Polian said, "but come see me in December."
Polian, the crusty general manager of the Bills during their glory days, always had a way of making a good point. James has not proven a thing to anyone. At least not yet.
The Bills will get their first look at the former University of Miami star Sunday when they play their season opener against the Colts in the RCA Dome. They, too, want to see more before canonizing James as the NFL's next great running back.
Sure, the early signs are there for a promising career. But he should have a much more difficult time running through the Bills' defense than he did against the Saints' mediocre front seven. Perhaps that's why Polian was so hesitant to get behind the wheel of the Edgerrin James Bandwagon.
"He's still a rookie," Bills linebacker John Holecek said Thursday. "He's a talented back, but there are lots of first-round running backs drafted. A lot of them do well, and I'm sure he's expecting to do well. He looks like a good back.
"But we're not scared of anybody. We're going to respect his skills, but he's not the be all to end all of a running back. He's a strong runner, but he still has to have his blocking. We think we can contain him."
The Bills go into their first exam against James without much study material. He appeared in just two preseason games, so there isn't much videotape of the 6-foot, 216-pounder in a Colts' uniform. The Bills need only look at his 6.3-yards-per-carry rushing average on 22 attempts to understand he could induce a major migraine.
"You have to do it in the regular season," James said. "That's when it really counts. It's going to speed up. Everything is going to be full-go, and there will be no excuses."
The Bills might not have reviewed much videotape on James, who wears No. 32, but they already have know he has several qualities that are difficult to defend.
He has excellent field vision and can find a seam seemingly anywhere. He often cuts back against the grain and possesses a keen awareness of where the defense is coming from. He's fast enough to get outside, strong enough to run inside. None of his 22 rushes in the preseason were for losses. He's also a capable receiver.
Other than that, he stinks.
"You have to read the keys, hold your gaps and hold your forces," safety Henry Jones said. "You have to remember what you learned from watching him on film. He's the type of runner that can hit any hole, has good vision and his feet are really alive. He's moving all over the place. He's a tough runner."
Remember, it's not as if this is the first time the Bills have faced a good back, or even a good back from Indy. Marshall Faulk, traded to St. Louis a few days before the draft, was the most complete back in the league last season. He never rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 career games against the Bills.
Only 15 rookies have gained more than 1,000 yards in the last 10 years. Four of the 15 were picked in the first 10. One of the four was Faulk, who took 5,320 yards rushing, 2,804 yards receiving and 51 touchdowns in five NFL seasons to the Rams.
Last year, Faulk accounted for 43 percent of the Colts' offense and already has a place as one of the franchise's best all-time running backs. James is just beginning his career.
"We're going to use the same approach that we did when Marshall Faulk was there. He's that type of back," linebacker Sam Cowart said. "Faulk was more experienced and did more things, so it's hard to compare this guy (James) to a guy that's been in the Pro Bowl."
James started only 17 games at Miami but is ranked second among the school's career rushing leaders with 2,960 yards. He gained 1,416 yards for the Hurricanes as a junior before leaving for the NFL.
He missed most of training camp because of a contract dispute before signing a seven-year deal that could be worth $49 million if all the incentives are reached. He was impressive in the preseason. Now the time comes to see if he can do the same in a game that counts.
Starting with this one.
"Ask me sometime Sunday night," defensive end Phil Hansen said. "He's definitely got the potential. He's somewhat of an unknown. We'll do what we do. We'll play our defense and let him run into us. Something has to give."