Chargers rookie James not satisfied despite quick start
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Derwin James was one of the nation’s top defensive players the past three seasons at Florida State. He is quickly establishing the same reputation in his rookie season in the NFL.
The Chargers safety leads Los Angeles in tackles (30) and sacks (3.0) going into Sunday’s game against Oakland. James, who was the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, is also the first defensive back since the Jets’ Kerry Rhodes in 2006 to have three or more sacks and an interception in the first four games of a season.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be at,” James said. “I’m doing good in coverage but there are other small things that I can still get fixed.”
James was considered one of the most versatile defensive players in college because of his coverage skills and ability to rush the quarterback. Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is putting those skills to good use.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound James leads NFL rookie defensive backs in sacks, passes defensed (six) and quarterback pressures (seven). James has mostly lined up at free safety, but he has also played at slot corner and linebacker.
James played mostly safety in Week 1 against the Chiefs and two weeks later against the Rams. In the other two games, against the Bills and 49ers, whose offenses aren’t as dynamic, he was used at linebacker and safety.
Another factor in James’ strong start has been his confidence. He admitted he didn’t feel that at times as he was still working his way back from an injury to his left knee that occurred in Florida State’s second game in 2016 and kept him out the rest of that season.
“I was 100 percent once I came back but the flow and speed of the game is faster,” he said. “You may feel 100 percent but then it was getting over the fact in my mind that the knee was fine and not babying it.”
Where Bradley lines up James this week will be one of the more interesting matchups. The Raiders are second in the league in total offense, averaging 441.8 yards per game, and fourth in passing (333 yards per game).
Oakland, which got its first win last Sunday against Cleveland in overtime, has had a 100-yard receiver in each game this season and is one of only three teams to do that. The Chargers are 2-2 after beating San Francisco last week.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden said they scouted James extensively before the draft, but after drafting a safety in high rounds in 2016 and ’17, it was difficult to justify taking another one.
During a conference call Wednesday, Gruden compared James to Rodney Harrison and Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott.
“He’s an intimidating player,” Gruden said. “He has the physical presence, the range to play deep, coverage ability and he can run through you, around you and over you. He’s good in any generation. He can play in high top cleats and leather helmets.”
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has also lauded James for having the demeanor of a player who has been in the league for a long time.
“I know what type of player I am. I didn’t get to show it a lot in college a lot because coaches would scheme and not come my way. I know what I can do,” James said.
Notes: Coach Anthony Lynn said left tackle Russell Okung is likely to be a game-time decision after he strained his groin during the first half of Sunday’s game against San Francisco. If Okung is unable to play, Sam Tevi will move to left tackle and Trent Scott will be at right tackle. ... Lynn said the decision to release punter Drew Kaser and sign Donnie Jones had to do with chemistry issues on extra points and field goals, where Kaser was the holder for kicker Caleb Sturgis, who has missed three extra points. “Drew is an outstanding punter. It was a hard cut, but you look at the big picture. Just wanting to change the whole direction right there with the holder and the kicker and make an extra point.”
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