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Chargers

Chargers rookie Derwin James determined to be a leader on defense

There’s a natural pecking order at the start of rookie minicamp, the team’s top pick headed for the biggest contract, signing bonus and expectations.

Derwin James, the Chargers’ first pick at No. 17 overall, was in the room when the team’s second- and third-round selections first arrived at the practice facility. He already was welcomed when the Chargers rounded out their draft class and signed undrafted free agents.

And because he was picked first, you might expect him to set the tone for the rest of the rookie class. Well, James would’ve done that anyway.

“I feel like I’m a natural leader. Even if I came last, I’d still try and be a leader,” James said. “I just want to lead this group however I can, come out and practice hard every day.”

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While minicamp is more of an orientation than an evaluation period, James and fellow rookies went through their first NFL practice Friday. It’s hard to stand out this early in the process. Still, James managed to do so.

Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James works out during the team’s NFL football rookie minicamp Friday,
The Chargers’ Derwin James works out during the team’s rookie minicamp on Friday.
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press )

“He’s an alpha dog, no doubt about it,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “He is a leader, and that’s why we brought him on this team. It’s just a matter of time before his intangibles start to show.”

Friday, James played closer to the line of scrimmage, a possible sign that the Chargers view him as their strong safety, which could push Jahleel Addae farther from the line of scrimmage than last season.

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But one reason so many pundits were high on James’ selection is because of his versatility.

“They’re just trying to take it step by step, let me learn one position. And if they see me somewhere else, they’ll probably just let me learn that position,” James said. “They’ve said just focus on one position for now.”

Regardless of where he was on the field, James was just happy to be playing football again.

“Today when I got here for the first time, put my Chargers helmet on, it felt great,” he said.

One center to another

Former UCLA center and Chargers fifth-round pick Scott Quessenberry walked onto the practice field wearing No. 61 for the team he grew up rooting for — the same number as longtime Chargers center Nick Hardwick.

“They gave me a list of numbers. It was one that stood out for me because I was the biggest Nick Hardwick fan in the world growing up,” Quessenberry said. “I had his jersey.

“I chose it, and there was some backlash, but when I heard Nick gave me his blessing — he said ‘61 deserves to be out there on the field fighting, not hanging up in the rafters.’ — I was really honored. I’m really excited to be wearing his number. I’m going to do whatever I can to honor it.”

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In his first day with the team, Quessenberry played left and right guard in addition to center.

“As a center, you’ve got to know everybody’s job on the line,” he said. “That’s kind of what I see myself as down the line, so that was the first thing I did. I tried to learn what every guy’s doing on every play. I didn’t think I was playing guard today, so when they told me I was kicking out to guard, it was an easy transition.”

Etc.

Five of the Chargers’ draft picks, including USC’s Uchenna Nwosu, signed their rookie contracts. Only James and third-round pick Justin Jones, a defensive tackle, haven’t signed. … The team also announced 13 non-contract participants for rookie minicamp, including Utah quarterback Troy Williams and UCLA tight end Austin Roberts.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports


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