Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr. was on the field and even if it was late May, that’s a solid day for the Bolts.
“It felt good to be back on the grass with my coaches and teammates once again,’’ James said. “It felt amazing.’’
If feeling a little strange at the same time, considering what James can do, and the nearly two years that he hasn’t been able to do it.
James, a safety, burst onto the scene during his 2018 rookie year when he was named an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. His escalator to greatness was humming upward as there was little the versatile James, a first-round pick, couldn’t accomplish.
Keep an eye on receivers going over the top? Check.
Slide down closer to the line of scrimmage to aid in run support? Check.
Have a nose for the football that often had James in the middle of the commotion? Check.
Provide guidance and encouragement to his colleagues and coaches. Check and check.
But what didn’t check out was James’ health. Injuries derailed James the past two seasons, which made his appearance during the Chargers’ latest offseason training activity a cause for a hearty hip-hip-hooray.
“When he’s out there, our chances increase by a whole bunch,’’ L.A. coach Brandon Staley said. “It was a big step for him.’’
If the Chargers aim to climb the AFC West ladder, James’ participation is critical. What he brings with his skills — both athletically and verbally — are difficult to ignore.
“One of his strengths as a football player is his leadership, and that energy he gives everybody each and every day,’’ Staley added. “He looks great. I’m looking forward to a lot more from him.’’
James ponders the future, although he occasionally steals a peek of what’s behind him. Maybe there’s a silver lining to missing 11 games with a foot injury in 2019 and the 2020 season with a knee issue.
“I’ve got a lot wiser, just from watching and rehabbing and wanting to be out there every year,’’ James said. “I’m just ready to take the next step.’’
While playing for his next contract, James might add.
James is in the fourth season of his four-year, $12.3 million rookie deal. The Chargers reportedly exercised their option for 2022, which is worth just north of $9 million to James.
That would also be his salary cap hit for next season, which leads many to believe James will earn a long-term deal if he can avoid the injury bug. Not only would a mulit-year pact give James piece of mind, it could also aid the Chargers’ cap situation.
All of that will determined by James’ availability and production, which will be learned during the upcoming campaign. James is confident he’ll be there to deliver in it.
“I have a lot of work to do, a lot of catching up to do,’’ James said. “I feel like I’ll be ready when it’s time to play.’’