By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports activities NFL Author
Since his arrival because the seventeenth total choose within the 2018 NFL Draft, Los Angeles Chargers security Derwin James has served as an emotional chief defensively.
The do-everything defensive again performs with an unbridled enthusiasm and power which can be contagious, which spills over to his teammates.
Upon his arrival within the league, James gave technique to veteran leaders comparable to Casey Hayward Jr., Melvin Ingram III and Brandon Mebane to supply vocal management whereas the younger security grew into his position with the staff.
Now in his fifth NFL season, the 25-year-old Florida State product will function the defensive playcaller and Bolts’ vocal chief for a second straight yr in head coach Brandon Staley’s 3-4 scheme.
“I’m extra comfy this yr doing it,” James stated. “Simply listening to Coach [Staley] in my ear this yr versus the primary time final yr, it’s extra comfy. It sounds acquainted to me. I sort of can end a number of the calls earlier than he even says it to me now, in order that’s cool.”
The Chargers loaded up on new gamers to assist enhance a disappointing efficiency by the protection in Staley’s first season in 2021, together with the addition of a shutdown cornerback in former New England Patriot J.C. Jackson and edge rushers Khalil Mack through commerce and Kyle Van Noy by free company.
However the straw that stirs the drink for the Chargers stays James.
“We would like Derwin to be the signal-caller of our protection as a result of we really feel like he’s the chief of our protection,” Staley stated. “We really feel like the best way he performs, the place he performs — whether or not he’s enjoying security, Star or Cash — he’s in the midst of the protection. He by no means leaves the sphere. We predict that that’s necessary. We predict that may be a bonus.”
Attributable to accidents final season, James aligned because the deep security on 53% of his staff’s defensive snaps, in keeping with Subsequent Gen Stats. The 2 earlier seasons, James was used as a deep security on simply 25% of snaps.
With the addition of Jackson (who can journey with the opposing offense’s No. 1 receiver) and slot defender Bryce Callahan in free company, in addition to speedy third-round choice JT Woods within the draft, the Chargers ought to have extra choices within the defensive backfield, permitting James to be extra of a playmaker on the line of scrimmage.
“I really feel prefer it’s going to assist our protection so much,” James stated. “Having the ability to blitz extra and having the ability to do much more issues within the [tackle] field. I’m comfy within the field. I don’t thoughts it.”
Added Staley: “Derwin was improbable for us final season. What we’ve carried out is we’ve surrounded them with much more depth and expertise, so that each one his abilities will shine even brighter than they did final season due to who he has joined up with.
“Derwin, all he must do is proceed to do what he all the time does as a result of he’s one of many particular gamers within the league.”
James has been the most effective defensive gamers within the NFL since he entered the league 4 years in the past. He earned Professional Bowl and All-Professional honors throughout a formidable rookie season in 2018, ending with 105 tackles, 13 cross breakups, three interceptions and three.5 sacks. Final season, he led the Chargers in tackles with 118, incomes a second Professional Bowl choice.
In between, James had bother staying wholesome. In 2019, a fractured foot pressured him to overlook all however 5 video games that season. The next yr, James missed your entire 2020 season on account of a torn meniscus that required surgical procedure.
James stated he feels sturdy and wholesome heading into this season, having added a few kilos to higher endure the pains of a marathon NFL season. James additionally switched from No. 33 to No. 3, his school quantity.
Together with being the staff’s second-leading tackler final season, James totaled two interceptions, two sacks, seven tackles for loss, 5 cross breakups and three pressured fumbles.
Getting into the ultimate yr of his rookie contract, he stated nothing is imminent so far as contract discussions between his agent, David Mulugheta, and the Chargers. Historically, the Chargers dealer new agreements with rookies on the finish of their offers in the summertime, simply earlier than the beginning of coaching camp on the finish of July.
“At any time when that takes care of itself, it takes care of itself,” James stated. “My job proper now could be simply to assist guys like Khalil Mack and JT Woods rise up to hurry.”
After main the No. 1-ranked protection in 2020 as defensive coordinator for the Rams, Staley’s defensive group underperformed in his first season with the Bolts. L.A. completed twenty ninth in complete protection, permitting 27 factors per sport.
The Chargers have been even worse in opposition to the run, permitting 139 speeding yards per contest — third-worst within the league. L.A. allowed offenses to transform a league-worst 49.54% on third down and compelled simply 21 takeaways, tied for seventeenth within the NFL.
The Bolts completed tied for twenty first in sacks (35) and gave up 12 passing performs of 40-plus yards final season, which positioned them within the backside third within the NFL.
Nevertheless, with an infusion of expertise up entrance, together with defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox and Austin Johnson, together with Mack and inside linebacker Troy Reeder, the Chargers needs to be higher at stopping the run, resulting in extra success getting off the sphere on third down.
On the head of the snake for L.A.’s potent protection is James.
“We’ve to change into a staff protection, which is all three ranges enjoying the sport the suitable approach from a way standpoint, an task standpoint after which them understanding the way it all matches collectively,” Staley stated. “And this group does. … I’m excited as a result of it’s a deep group, it’s an skilled group. We’ve mixture of veterans and youth, however they’re all guys that match how we need to play.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for greater than a decade, masking the Los Angeles Rams for Sports activities Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma Information Tribune. Observe him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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