Versatile Derwin James is the Chargers’ safety valve in defense
He has gone from nowhere to playing everywhere, Derwin James is once again visible all over the Chargers defense.
He’s been on the field for 97% of the team’s defensive snaps in four games, missing only a brief stretch against the Kansas City Chiefs after dislocating his shoulder and having to put it back in place. .
Under new coach Brandon Staley and now healthy, James is second on the team with 26 tackles and sealed a victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday with a late interception.
“We got together, me and him, ahead in the fourth quarter,” said rusher Joey Bosa. “We were like, ‘It’s up to us, man. We need to. For him, it was great.
James missed 2020 after sustaining a knee injury in August, his loss helping to derail a team that lost nine of their first 12 games. It came after a 2019 season in which he was limited to five games due to a foot injury.
Now, similar to his All-Pro rookie year, James is deployed throughout the defense, from the line of scrimmage to the player furthest from the ball.
Staley said the Chargers use James in five different locations, including free and strong security. He also plays what the Chargers call “star,” “money” and “X” – each a variation of sets that employ additional defensive backs.
In addition to these roles, James also calls out defensive signals, a mission that involves making sure his teammates are properly aligned. Next stop: the Cleveland Browns 3-1 at home on Sunday.
“It’s a big, big job description,” Staley said. “He’s one of the few guys in the world who can do it.”
Ahead of his interception on Monday, James was beaten deeply by Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III for a 51-yard gain early in the fourth quarter.
Subsequently, Staley took the blame for the completion, saying, “The mistake is really on me for asking him to do so much.”
James chose to give credit to the Ruggs Rapids.
“He stood up against me a bit,” said James with a smile. “I should have backed off. I have to be deeper.
Despite the mistake, Staley has no intention of drastically altering James’ workload just because he’s too important, his versatility too vital for this defense to perform at its highest level.
The Chargers drafted James in the first round – with the No. 17 pick – in 2018. Since then, the team is 16-9 when James plays and 11-16 when he doesn’t.
“If Derwin James only did two out of five jobs it would be easier for him,” Staley said. “You could see more production from him. But it wouldn’t be as good for our team. The fact that he plays five roles for us helps us to be the best defense and the best team possible. That’s why he’s amazing.
On Sunday, the Chargers face an attack from Cleveland that includes the NFL’s main rushing offense and a Baker Mayfield quarterback who can play with flair.
“We just have to keep going, keep the momentum going because the season doesn’t end this week,” said James. “It doesn’t stop next week. We must therefore continue to stack the victories.