The day after he was drafted by the Chargers as the No. 17 overall pick, Derwin James walked through the team’s offices to meet his new coaches — and greet a familiar one.
James and Addison Lynch, the Chargers’ defensive quality coach, had joked about this moment at the NFL combine but never expected it would happen.
Lynch, who had trained James as the quality coach at Florida State, started working for the Chargers in February and had been in touch with James throughout the spring, giving advice about NFL expectations.
At the combine, Lynch had mentioned the possibility of a reunion in Los Angeles in jest, since James had been projected to be drafted before the Chargers’ turn. As James stepped into Lynch’s office that day, the joke was fresh in their memory as they traded high-fives and hugged.
“He was like, ‘man, you called it,’ ” Lynch said.
Lynch is due for another reunion when the Chargers face the Rams on Sunday, this time with Lamarcus Joyner — another former Seminoles safety competing in Los Angeles ... just in a different color jersey.
Although Joyner and James have never met, their Florida State careers separated by three years, their talent is a testament to shared roots.
“That’s just Florida State,” Joyner said. “That’s expected. That’s why you go to Florida State, to be able to be groomed into an NFL-type player, whatever position you’re playing, so you see that year in and year out. But it’s just good to have another star in the league.”
James is six inches taller and 24 pounds heavier than the 5-foot-8 Joyner, but Lynch said otherwise the two were “almost identical players” in speed, aggressiveness and passion for the game. Joyner had heard plenty of praise about James, then watched first-hand when Seminole games were available on TV.
Joyner saw NFL talent, but knew James would have to adjust, just as the Rams’ defensive back had to when switched from corner to safety last season. Rams coach Sean McVay said Joyner adjusted well to the change.
“I think he’s extremely comfortable,” McVay said. “He’s very confident. One of the things about Lamarcus that you don’t have to know anything — you just watch him — he’s got a great play demeanor and a great energy where he kind of brings people with him.”
James had the advantage of being groomed slowly, practicing with the second team in training camp and eventually working his way into the starting lineup.
“He’s a heck of an athlete, first of all, and he’s running our scheme,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “So he’s playing a lot faster right now and he’s playing with a little confidence. And as good as he played yesterday, he could still play better, so he’s still growing, he’s still learning. And we’re just fortunate to have him.”
Joyner has five tackles in two games, James nine. And James has recorded a sack in each game as the Chargers shifted the rookie around different formations.
Above playing ability, Lynch lauded their character, even though these characters are quite different.
Joyner was kind but reserved, disappearing after practice at Florida State to study on his own. James was outgoing, with a smile that seemed to attract conversation, his friendliness becoming a style of leadership.
But no matter the makeup, from alumni Devin Bush, Terrell Buckley, LeRoy Butler, Deion Sanders, Jalen Ramsey ... to Joyner and James, they’ve all developed NFL personalities.
“That’s what happens at DBU,” Lynch said, referring to his school as Defensive Back University. “There’s so many great ones before you, they want to compare you to make you great, but then you’re great in your own way, and then you get compared against other people.