Chargers’ first day of minicamp

Chargers first day of minicamp
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Dressed in shorts and without a helmet, Derwin James still experienced one of his most significant practices as a professional football player Monday.

That’s because the 2018 All-Pro was, for the first time in nearly nine months, a football player again.

James, who missed the 2020 season because of a knee injury, returned as the Chargers opened the next phase of offseason activities at their training complex in Costa Mesa.

“I cherish every moment I’m out there,” he said afterward. “It felt good to be back out on the grass with my coaches and my teammates. It felt amazing today.”

After a standout rookie year, James appeared in only five of the Chargers’ last 32 games because of major injuries sustained in each of the past two training camps.

The Chargers’ medical staff gave James the OK on Saturday to return, a development he called “a relief.” New head coach Brandon Staley suggested James’ impact was immediate.

“You can see that he’s a multiplier out there,” Staley said. “From the minute I got hired, I met this guy … and I felt better about our chances. When he’s out there, our chances increase by a whole bunch.”

That’s especially true with the Chargers transitioning to a new defensive scheme that will feature a 3-4 look across the front and emphasize versatility and varied personnel.

James’ ability to play all over the field — from the line of scrimmage to deep safety and from sideline to sideline — is pivotal to Staley and new defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill maximizing the possibilities.

Under Gus Bradley in recent seasons, the Chargers deployed a free safety and a strong safety. James and Nasir Adderley are the starting safeties entering 2021 but both could be used in other ways.

James played a variety of roles in 2018 when he became the first rookie in franchise history to amass more than 100 tackles. He and Adderley also can play nickel corner or hybrid linebacker when the Chargers go with more defensive backs.

“They both have a lot of DB characteristics, meaning they can play a lot of different places,” Staley said. “That gives you a lot of flexibility from a matchup standpoint, from a personnel grouping standpoint.”

Chargers safety Derwin James makes a catch during camp in Costa Mesa.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

For now, the overriding goal for James is to simply make it to the regular-season opener. He suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during a joint practice with New Orleans in August 2019, costing him 11 games.

During an intrasquad scrimmage a year later, James went down with a torn right meniscus that required surgery and ended his season. Both injuries occurred in nearly the same spot on the same field.

James also suffered a meniscus injury in 2016 while he was at Florida State and appeared in only two games. He dismissed the notion that his health should be a lingering concern.

“It was just bad luck or whatever you want to call it,” James said. “It’s part of the game. I’m not the first guy to get injured in football history and I won’t be the last … I’m going to bounce back stronger, bounce back harder.”

Entering his fourth season, James has a base salary of $2.1 million. The Chargers exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie contract in April, guaranteeing him slightly more than $9 million in 2022.

As for altering his regimen in an attempt to decrease the risk of injury, James indicated he would push himself but did admit to trying to eat better and not over train.

“I’m already fast,” he said. “I’m already athletic. … Not going to just kill my body in the offseason, just working smarter.” After meeting with the Chargers’ player leadership council, Staley said the decision was made to scale back the intensity during certain portions of OTAs, something that has been happening around the NFL.

He explained that all individual work as well as strength and conditioning will be done at full speed. But the Chargers will conduct no competitive one-on-one or 11-on-11 drills, instead taking those at a walk-through pace.

“We’re trying to create a game-like environment from a mental standpoint,” Staley said. “We really feel like this is the model moving forward that’s gonna best fit the Chargers and create an environment where our guys can really improve.”

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