Chargers’ Derwin James and Kyzir White impress in preseason start against the Saints
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is direct with his words, taking an as-the-crow-flies approach to sharing a thought — the fastest path to the point is the one he usually takes.
That’s why it was a bit of a surprise when Lynn began to plant the seeds for what would happen in the team’s third preseason game two weeks earlier.
After the Chargers game in Arizona to open the preseason, Lynn went out of his way to praise the rookies on the second-team defense.
“If they keep playing the way they’re playing, they may find themselves in that starting lineup,” Lynn said this month.
And by Week 3 of the exhibition season, a pair of them were in there, with safety Derwin James and outside linebacker Kyzir White making their first career exhibition starts.
James flashed fastest, making the Chargers’ biggest defensive play, intercepting future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on the Saints’ opening drive.
The interception, James’ first in the preseason, came on a deep pass intended for speedster Ted Ginn Jr., with the Chargers’ first-round pick coming over the top to make the leaping play. After the interception, James led the rest of his teammates in the Chargers’ secondary into the north end zone to pose for a photo, which has become a team tradition after turnovers.
“It was cool,” James said. “I grew up as a kid, watching Drew Brees. I used to play Madden with him sometimes too.”
Starting alongside Jahleel Addae, James later helped force a drop on third down when he rapidly closed on Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
“We can be a tandem back there to be reckoned with,” Addae said. “He’s versatile, plays the run, plays the pass, like you’ve seen. … There are a lot of different dynamics where we can use him in this defense.”
James wasn’t the only rookie getting his first chance as a starter.
White, who replaced Jatavis Brown at linebacker, had three tackles in his stint Saturday against the Saints. The Chargers’ fourth-round pick this past spring has been sporadically receiving first-team reps at the position all camp.
It wasn’t all perfect — for example James would later badly whiff while trying to wrap up Kamara — but the early returns certainly must have Lynn excited about his prediction.
A year ago, the Chargers didn’t get much from their rookie class. First-round pick Mike Williams injured his back on the opening day of rookie camp and never caught up. Second-round pick Forrest Lamp tore an anterior cruciate ligament early in training camp and still hasn’t returned. Fourth-round pick Rayshawn Jenkins struggled with penalties in limited action, and sixth-rounder Sam Tevi and seventh-rounder Isaac Rochell weren’t really needed.
Only third-round pick Dan Feeney, an offensive guard, and fifth-round pick Desmond King, a corner, provided consistent production.
It seems like that won’t happen again this season, though, with James, White and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu all possibilities to start as soon as Week 1.
Saturday against New Orleans, a pair of them got a chance, and they didn’t let Lynn down.
The third preseason game, normally regarded as the final dress rehearsal for the starters before the regular season, was without some key actors.
Starting cornerbacks Casey Hayward (hamstring) and Trevor Williams (ankle) were both sidelined, as were defensive end Joey Bosa (foot) and defensive tackle Darius Philon (hamstring).
The first-string offense played without wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot) and running back Melvin Gordon (family matter).
Lynn said Bosa, in particular, would surely be ready to play in the Chargers’ opener against Kansas City.
The final preseason game at StubHub Center drew 22,597 fans. …Offensive lineman Russell Okung and running back Austin Ekeler, who had nine touches for 63 yards in two drives, were both shut down early on Saturday. Ekeler missed last week’s game with a calf injury.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.