Chargers first-round pick Derwin James shaping up to start at safety in season opener
Before he was a draft pick, an NFL player or a Charger, Derwin James knew what he wanted to be more than anything else this season:
“That was one of my goals when I met with every team,” the defensive back said, recalling his pre-draft interviews. “I had that confidence. You gotta play this game with a lot of swag.”
It appears James’ swag and performance have earned him a starting job. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley indicated Monday that the team plans to open with James at one of the safety positions in the Sept. 9 season opener against Kansas City at StubHub Center.
“That’s what we’re looking at right now,” Bradley said, smiling. “We can’t show our hand too much.”
The 17th player taken in this year’s draft, James has impressed the Chargers with his maturity, leadership and ability to operate from multiple spots on the field.
He started at strong safety Saturday against New Orleans, with veteran Jahleel Addae at free safety. James ended the Saints’ first possession by intercepting Drew Brees.
“There is going to be a learning curve,” Bradley said. “I think he’ll go out and make a mistake here and there, but he’ll also make some splash plays.”
James has been on the field for 106 snaps through three preseason games, the most among Chargers defenders. He has been credited with eight tackles, including one for loss.
But it hasn’t been just his performance between the whistles that has pleased Bradley, who noted James’ eagerness to communicate with teammates after plays and series.
“I see him as a natural leader,” Bradley said. “I think he’s finding his place. But, at times, he can’t help himself. That’s who he is. He leads. I love his personality. He’s got a great spirit about him.
“As he gains confidence in what he’s doing, it will be even more. He’s already talking … very animated. He’s got a lot of energy. I think that personality will show more once he gains more confidence in the system.”
“I’m not just trying to start,” James said. “I’m trying to make plays. It’s more than just earning a starting job. Now, what are you going to do with it?”
Allen doing double duty
Keenan Allen caught only one pass for five yards Saturday. Yet, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt still was praising him Monday because of a block Allen threw on a running play.
“That sets the tone for your team when you have an unselfish guy that does that,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s a competitor. He really showed how important it is to him.”
The Chargers emphasized the run early against the Saints, gaining 67 yards in the first quarter. Three of their six longest plays Saturday were runs by Austin Ekeler.
Whisenhunt said Allen, a 2017 Pro Bowler coming off a 102-catch season, isn’t shy about attempting to clear space for others.
“In that position, you are required to block,” Whisenhunt said. “Good running teams … those receivers take it upon themselves to be good blockers. Our guys have worked hard on that. Keenan has been a leader from that standpoint.”
The Chargers announced they have sold out their season tickets and have an average of about 500 tickets remaining for each of their seven home dates.
The team’s eighth “home” game is set for Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 21 against Tennessee.
Gordon still absent
Melvin Gordon, who missed Saturday’s game because of a family matter, was not on the field when practice began Monday. As with all the starters, Gordon is not expected to play Thursday’s preseason finale at San Francisco.
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