by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
More NFL teams have switched to a 3-4 defense this year, which puts hybrid end/outside linebacker types at a premium. Good thing for James Ruffin.
The Northern Iowa stalwart earned FCS All-American honors last season, leading the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 10.5 in sacks. In his PD interview, he discussed his position flexibility and how he looks forward to making an impact on the field.
Let’s start out by talking about the East West Shrine Game and your experience for that week. How did that go?
It was a great experience. I mean, getting the opportunity to play against better talent and guys from bigger schools, and showcasing your talent against guys like that, it was a great opportunity. I felt like it was a good week for me. It started out – it started kind of iffy, but I think it ended up pretty good, and the game went really good for me. So I really enjoyed the opportunity and the experience.
When you say it started out iffy, what do you mean by that?
I would say, just being out of pads for so long, getting used to that. That was probably the only thing, just adjusting to pads, and then once you got back in the feel for it, I mean, it took off from there.
And do you think you did well against that level of competition?
Yeah, I think I did really well, actually. I mean, I can play with those guys. I don’t know other people’s opinions – (they) really don’t matter – but I know I matched up great against those guys and I played against them every day of the week. So, as far as that goes, I know I can play with those guys.
Any particular opponents who really stuck out in your mind?
Yeah, I thought that (Rodger Saffold III,) the tackle from Indiana was pretty good, and (Chris Scott,) the tackle from Tennessee was pretty good, and Marshall Newhouse (from TCU) was pretty good, too. Those three guys kind of stick out in my mind right now.
You had a sack in the game, didn’t you?
Yeah, I did.
Could you talk a little bit about that, about how you felt on that particular play?
Well, I just remember, you know, not getting many snaps in the first half. We were rotating series, and our group kept getting three-and-outs. And I saw some D-ends making plays, and I was just like, when I go out there, I’m just going to get off on the ball as fast as I can, and quick as I can. So pre-snap, I noticed the guy was in pass set, so I just keyed the ball and got a good jump on him. He kicked back pretty fast and I just had to shake him one time, went around him and got the sack. And then after that, I just – I kept getting pressure after that.
So, in terms of moving up to the NFL, do you see yourself as a pass-rushing defensive end, or have you started thinking about the transition to linebacker?
Both. I mean, I can do both, which is a good thing going into the draft. If that means me gaining weight to play D-end, or being the linebacker weight and staying at this size, being able to drop and cover tight ends and taking on blockers, I can do that too. It’s pretty much the same thing, it’s just (if you’re) standing up or if you’re not. But as far as the NFL goes, I mean, as a defensive end, I think of my field as a pass rusher. And as a linebacker, more of a “Sam,” right over the tight end.
And about what’s your weight right now, James?
Two hundred and sixty pounds.
And you feel comfortable with that, if you were asked to drop (that)?
Oh, yeah. I can do that easily. I can gain or lose. My weight fluctuates a lot. I’m really just maintaining weight now, just to see where I end up, and adjust to where I go.
Speaking of that, where are you now, and what kind of workout regimen are you on?
Right now, I’m actually training at school. Working out five days – six days a week, actually. I was out in Atlanta before the Shrine Game, prepping myself to play defensive end. And then I just got back from California last week, training with Charles Dimry’s facility out there, training up speed and agilities, 40s, stuff like that.
And how do you feel about all that?
It’s all going pretty good. I know that the (40) time that’s down for me, right now, is a slow time, and I’m going to run way faster than that. And my L (3-cone) drill and (shuttle), I’m still working on right now, so I think I’m going to test well and open some eyes as far as that goes. I know that’s a big question mark on me right now.
When is your (pro) day? Is Northern Iowa going to have a (pro) day, or are you going somewhere else?
Northern Iowa’s pro day is on the 31st of March. And I’m doing Minnesota’s pro day next week, on the 10th. I’m doing two.
What kind of numbers do you think you’ll put up?
Oh, I mean, I’ll be shocked if I run over a 4.7 (in the 40). I’m pushing for high 4.6’s, low 4.7 range. I know I can get a 4.75, but I’m looking to be faster than that. As far as the bench goes, I’m around 26 reps, and by the time of my pro day I should be around 28, that range. Vertical’s around 33 (inches). L-drill and (shuttle), I’m not sure yet. I’m still working on technique on that, so I really couldn’t tell you my numbers for those.
Coming out of high school, what were some of the schools that you were looking at? You went to high school in Minnesota, is that right?
Yeah, I did… After high school, I thought I was going to Iowa, because I went to the camp and they really liked me there, that was my sophomore year. The guy was pretty much telling me, “We’re going to have a scholarship for you,” and he showed me the facility, pulled me out of the group of all the guys and showed me around. After that, I had my eyes set on going to Iowa. And then – it was a lot of schools, I really can’t name them all, but a lot of the Big Ten schools, and then Ball State came along. Those are the teams that recruited me, and then, going into my senior year, I was playing summer league basketball and I tore my meniscus. The doctor was telling me I needed to get it repaired, and I’d miss four games, so I was telling all the guys who were calling me that I would miss the beginning of the year due to injury, and they pretty much backed out. But I didn’t end up missing any games because it was just a little partial (tear). I didn’t miss any games my senior year, and then I got an offer from Ball State. I turned it down because Northern Iowa was a better fit for me.
What made Northern Iowa such a good fit?
Their recruiting style. I mean, they weren’t as pushy as Ball State. I was going to commit to Ball State, and other teams knew that, but then Northern Iowa came in, actually, really late. Their approach was more laid-back, it was more of a family type of atmosphere. And then being close to home, playing in the dome, I don’t know, it just fit. And I knew that, going to Ball State, I would be an H-back. I just wanted to be able to adjust where I should in college, and it happened to be at linebacker when I came here. And then I put on a few pounds and moved to defensive end, but it all worked itself out, though.
So, in high school, you played linebacker and fullback?
Actually, I only played two games at linebacker. All throughout high school I played fullback and running back.
Fullback and running back? Tell me about the transition to defense.
Well, actually, the tape that got sent here was a game where I’d played both ways. We had a lot of kids at our high school, so that – I mean, nobody ever did that. But (on) the tape that was sent here, I played linebacker. So the first day I came to Northern Iowa, I went to the running back room and they were like, “No, you’re not in here, you’re with the defense.” So I’d go in at linebacker, playing that first day. I was at inside linebacker… I was doing pretty good, and then coach called me into his office, telling me he wanted to move me to outside linebacker because they were considering playing me. I was there all throughout my redshirt freshman (year), I didn’t want to burn a year backing up someone, so I just redshirted, and I ended up gaining 35 pounds or something like that. Then in the spring, they got me at defensive end.
So when people talk about you making a transition, it’s almost like you’re transitioning back to your old position.
Yeah, exactly. Actually, now I can play the run better at outside linebacker, so that won’t be a problem for me.
Now, you played basketball in high school, too. Is that right?
Yeah, I did. I played on a pretty good 5A team in the Lake Conference in Minnesota. State finals my junior year, and I was All-Conference both years, so I had a pretty good basketball career as well in high school.
And what position did you play?
Small forward. We had a big team, so I was one of the smaller guys, I guess.
Looking at a lot of guys in the NFL, it seems like there’s a pretty strong case to be made for basketball players being able to play football. Why do you think that is? What is it about those sports that makes it… a doable transition to football?
Oh, I think a lot of basketball players play football as well. They just go hand-in-hand. I mean, you play basketball, you have no choice but to get quicker on your feet. Being explosive and being able to run and jump and do athletic things, it just transitions into playing football. You know, playing basketball, I was one of the better defenders, and that’s part of shuffling and moving your feet – playing football, that’s just second nature, when you’re going to the football field. Bringing the physical and mental nature (of basketball) to football, it just works.
Going back to the East West Shrine (Game), did you get to talk to any NFL teams?
Yeah, I interviewed with nine teams.
Were the Patriots one of them?
No, actually, I didn’t see the Patriots there. I didn’t interview with them, no.
Well, for any scouts who may have overlooked you coming from a smaller school, what do you think they need to know about you?
Well, first of all, I plan on making them regret it, actually. I just feel like I’m being overlooked and underrated. It’s the same situation from high school, what I’m dealing with again. So I think they need to know that they’re going to get a very quality football player, and a guy who’s motivated, and a guy who’s going to play in the NFL a long time. I know I will. I was meant to play this game, and I’m going to work at it. I’m going to work to be the best. As soon as I get into camp, I’m going to find their star defensive player and follow him around, figure out what he’s doing, and work to be better than him. I think that’s what they need to know, and I plan on proving myself once I get the opportunity.
That sounds great. James, thanks a lot for talking with us today.
Email Chris Warner at [email protected]