Chargers rookie Derwin James continues to impress with dynamic defensive plays

Chargers safety Derwin James sacks Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He already has had his first two sacks and knocked away a pass in the end zone some 50 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Last week in Buffalo, Derwin James was sort of like the hashmarks — he could be found all over the field.

“What we’re seeing is he does play fast,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “Whatever’s on his plate, whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to go 100 mph. Even if it’s a mistake, it might go 100 mph.”

Just a rookie and only two games into his career, James no doubt has made errors. But his exceptional play the rest of the time has obscured his negative plays to date.


On Sunday, he’ll have his best chance yet — playing in the Coliseum against the neighborhood rival Rams in a game featuring explosive offenses and all the attention they can generate — to show how much he doesn’t act like a rookie.

“He’s been working at it for quite some time,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We knew it was coming. He’s not there yet. But he’s doing more and more in this defense.”

Against the weapons of the Rams, James’ ability to make plays deep in the backfield and even deeper in the secondary figures to be significant.

The Chargers have been gracious and relentless this week in their praise of quarterback Jared Goff. They also have been quick to add that pressuring Goff will be a must Sunday.

In his two starts, James has proven he can provide pressure, which has been no minor contribution for a Chargers team missing defensive end Joey Bosa because of a foot injury.

“He has a knack for it,” Lynn said. “I like when those guys rush the passer and they never stop their feet. They can make a move and never stop their feet.”

James’ combination of speed and strength allows him to run around or through a blocking running back.

He’ll likely have to do both at times Sunday, plus a little more. The Rams have scored 67 points through two games and feature an offense similar to what Kansas City runs.

Against the Chiefs in Week 1, the Chargers had a difficult time solving all the misdirection and backfield trickery.

James almost certainly will spend more time closer to the line of scrimmage Sunday than he did in that game.

“When you see him flying around playing fast,” Lynn said, “that’s fun to watch because he can make plays.”

For the record

Austin Ekeler’s unlikely rise from Western State to the Chargers is on the verge of taking another notable step — into the NFL record books.

With another touchdown reception, Ekeler would become the first undrafted running back with at least five touchdown catches in his first two seasons since 1966.

He and Melvin Gordon have quickly re-established themselves this season as a potent backfield duo.

Combined, they are averaging more than five yards per carry and have caught 23 passes. They’ve also scored four of the Chargers’ seven touchdowns.

Ekeler reached his single-game career high in rushing yards Sunday in Buffalo — with more than 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. He finished with 77 yards in11 carries.

“You’ve got a guy like Austin that can do a couple of different things and he’s a great complement to Melvin,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “The biggest challenge you face with that situation is how do you get them enough carries?”


Tight end Antonio Gates (illness), wide receiver Travis Benjamin (foot) and fullback Derek Watt (thumb) were all limited in practice Friday and are questionable for Sunday. Bosa and right tackle Joe Barksdale (knee) have been ruled out.

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT