Chargers rookie Derwin James gaining ground on starting job
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Although Derwin James played against the best college players at Florida State, the Los Angeles Chargers' rookie safety is learning how football can be an entirely different game at its highest level.
"The speed is, uh, a little different," James said. "There's more guys that can run. And big guys! You'll see big guys flashing across your face, and you'll be like, 'Dang, why are they moving that fast?' You don't see it in college, but you're out there and a guy is 300 pounds and he's running, and you're just like, 'Oh, man, that's unbelievable.'"
James is getting up to speed quickly in the Chargers' secondary, and he looks increasingly likely to grab a starting job.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley acknowledged Monday that the Chargers think James could start in their regular season opener alongside Jahleel Addae. James is still learning on the job, but his progress in the Bolts' first three preseason games has been exciting to his coaches.
"You can see his confidence growing in the system," Bradley said. "If he makes a mistake, now he knows. He'll come over and go, 'That was on me.' I couldn't say that a couple of weeks ago."
James was expected to step up quickly as a first-round pick, and his path to a starting spot was cleared when the Chargers allowed Tre Boston to leave in the offseason. But James still has to prove that Bradley can rely on him, and he's getting a comprehensive test during the Chargers' preseason schedule, which concludes at San Francisco on Thursday night.
James' 106 preseason snaps are the most among the Chargers' defensive players.
"I feel like the more reps I get, the more knowledge will come," James said. "Gus does a great job of saying, 'When you're uncomfortable, that's when you get the most growth.' Right now I'm kind of uncomfortable, and I feel like I'm getting better each day."
Bradley used James and Addae at both strong safety and free safety last weekend against New Orleans, deliberately testing their versatility. James played many roles at Florida State, but learning those roles in Bradley's defense requires study and repetition.
James played in the box effectively as a strong safety for the Seminoles, while playing deep as a free safety isn't quite as familiar. He's also getting chances to rush the passer from multiple spots in the formation, adding more experiences to his skill set.
James made mistakes against the Saints, but also made a handful of outstanding plays — including his first interception against the quarterback who will likely end this season as the most prolific passer in NFL history. James sniffed out Drew Brees' long pass to Ted Ginn and leaped to make an outstanding catch.
"There is going to be a learning curve," Bradley said. "I think he's going to go out there and he'll make a mistake here and there, but he will also make some splash plays. Just like the (interception). You saw him make a great play, and then there's a play (later) where you go, 'OK, let's teach on this.' There might be some coaching on the sideline if that takes place on some plays, but he has gradually gotten better."
While he learns on the job, James has immediately taken a vocal role on the Chargers' defense, fulfilling his self-declared intention on draft day to become a team leader.
"He's already talking," Bradley said. "When you come off the field, he's talking to the guys, 'Hey, that's not good enough. This is good enough. This is what we're looking to do. That's a great job by the D-line.' He's very animated. He has a lot of energy. I think that personality will show more when he gains even more confidence in the system."