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Safety Derwin James says Chargers’ defense will be secondary to none

Chargers safety Derwin James says when he is healthy, plays will be made on defense.
Chargers safety Derwin James says when he is healthy, plays will be made on defense.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Derwin James mentioned playmaking, versatility and experience when addressing the potential of the Chargers’ secondary Wednesday.

Then, in trying to as simply as possible suggest what each defensive back will do in 2020, James added this:

“I feel like Des is gonna be Des and Casey’s gonna be Casey and Chris gonna be Chris. And Derwin gonna be Derwin. If I left anybody out, they gonna be themselves.”

James, in fact, did leave out a few contributors, including starting cornerback Michael Davis and starting free safety Rayshawn Jenkins.

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But, while specifically referencing Desmond King, Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr., the omissions were understandable.

The Chargers do have a secondary that appears to be stacked, coming off a season in which the defensive plays that weren’t made helped doom the team to a 5-11 finish.

Harris is the biggest addition, the former star slot cornerback with Denver signing as a free agent.

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The group also includes safety Nasir Adderley, a 2019 second-round pick who lost most of his rookie season to a hamstring injury, and safety Alohi Gilman, who was drafted in the sixth round in April.

Then there’s James, an All-Pro as a rookie in 2018 who missed the first 11 games last year after undergoing foot surgery. By the time he returned in December, the Chargers and their season were buried.

Asked what he hoped to achieve this season, James said: “Just being out there all 16 games. That’s the only goal I’m making this year. I feel like as long as I’m out there the plays are gonna come.”

The Chargers most certainly need those plays to come. They were the NFL’s worst defense in generating turnovers last season, finishing with only 14. Their minus-17 turnover differential tied for last with the four-win New York Giants.

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Some scheme changes are projected, with the Chargers potentially offering a greater assortment of pass coverages and free-agent tackle Linval Joseph expected to provide quarterback pressure from the middle.

“We want to make plays, though, not just tackles,” James said. “I need more interceptions. I need more sacks.”

While in college at Delaware, Adderley appeared on the NFL’s radar by showing an ability to be disruptive from sideline to sideline. The lingering hamstring issues prevented him from displaying that potential last season.

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James said Adderley is “finally healthy” and “looks fast, explosive” in workouts, though the Chargers won’t practice in pads for the first time until next week.

“That’s what he’s known for, for being around the ball,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “So we’ve got to find a place for him, whether it’s on third down or on the outside on the corner or nickel…”

Bradley also has said the Chargers could give more responsibility to Jenkins, who, in his third season, proved to be a reliable stopper in the deep middle of the field.

Like James, Jenkins grew up in Florida. James played college football at Florida State and Jenkins at Miami. The two shared the field for only the final five Chargers games in 2019.

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“We’ll get to mix that Florida State with that Miami swag,” James said. “We’re both Florida kids. It’s going to be fun.”

The Chargers’ secondary depth is such that, with the addition of Harris, King could be squeezed on playing time. And he is a versatile player who performed well enough to earn All-Pro honors in 2018.

A year ago, King’s production slipped on defense and he struggled as a punt returner, something he also has done expertly in the NFL.

“I love Des,” Harris said. “I’ve been knowing Des before he got in the league. That’s one of my little frat brothers there. I know we can definitely use him. He’s a great player. He has accolades too.

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“He’s a guy I definitely intend to be playing with, coming in and working together. When you’re going to win a Super Bowl, you need everybody, not just the four or five starters out there.”

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Super Bowl? The Chargers have to solve the AFC West first, which includes the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs.

James likened the West and the way its teams are accumulating speed to a relay race.

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“I feel like this is the ‘4x1 division,’ ” he said. “Everybody looks like they’re trying to get faster. I love this division.”

After going 5-11, the Chargers will begin the 2020 season sprinting to catch up.


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