Below are three takeaways from podium sessions after the Chargers 15th training camp practice:
James expresses love for the game, Chargers organization
The energy was off the charts at Jack Hammett Sports Complex on Wednesday as the Bolts hosted the Dallas Cowboys for the first of two joint practices. With increased media coverage and another team on in town, everything was cranked up in Costa Mesa.
That included Wednesday morning's news that Chargers safety Derwin James, Jr., signed a multi-year contract extension with the Bolts. Prior to the extension, James had only been on the field during team walk-throughs, with Wednesday being the first time at camp James put on the pads and helmet to suit up alongside his teammates.
After practice, James expressed his love for football and his desire to get back on the practice field. With the extension going official in time for Wednesday's practice, he spoke to members of the media about how it felt to get the deal done and what it felt like to suit up in the powder blues again.
"I'm feeling amazing," James said. "First off, I just want to say thank you to the Chargers for believing in me — from [Owner and Chairman of the Board] Dean [A. Spanos], [President of Business Operations], A.G. [Spanos], [President of Business Operations John Spanos], to [Salary Cap & Personnel Assistant] Mikey [Spanos], [General Manager] Tom Telesco.
"You all heard [Head] Coach [Brandon] Staley yesterday, thank you to him," James added. "Thank you to my agent [David Mulugheta], the best agent in the world. Thank you to my family and my loved ones that really helped me get to this day. I just wanted to say that."
Throughout camp, James has received high praise from his coaches and teammates as one of the team leaders and impact players on the roster. James talked about the 'love' he felt across the Bolts organization on Wednesday.
"Man, it was just so much love that I got," James said. "Not just my teammates, my coaches and from the cafeteria [workers] and everybody in the organization.
"It was just all love. As a player, that's all you can ask for. I'm humbled and I'm just thankful for it having that type of love around this organization that I have," James added.
The day before James' multi-year contract was signed, Staley called No. 3 the 'heartbeat of our defense' and said he looks at him as an 'impact player' rather than a safety. With the deal done, Staley expressed even more gratitude after Wednesday's practice for what James brings to the team.
"It's just really special," Staley said. "Any time you see a dream come true. That's what happened today, a dream came true for him. You know how hard that he had to work in order to make it happen.
"This wasn't like every other big contract that gets signed, because you know what he had to go through in order to make it to this point in his pro football career," Staley added. "He overcame a lot to earn this contract, and he earned every cent of it. We love him. It was great to see him out there in number three [jersey], in shoulder pads and in a helmet. He was a big, big leader for us today out there."
While you could see James' excitement to get on the field during the live 11-on-11 portions of practices, he was limited at practice in order to get his body acclimated. Staley said the team will 'ramp him up the right way' in the coming days.
Staley pleased with 'physicality' and 'toughness' on defense
As for Wednesday's joint practice with the Cowboys, the two-plus hour joint practice was action packed with 1-on-1s, 7-on-7's and live 11-on-11 drills.
After practice, Staley talked about the competition on both sides of the ball and the valuable work they were able to put in.
"No. 1, my hat goes off to the Cowboys, their organization, their players," Staley said. "I thought it was just a really good, competitive day. We got to get a lot of good work in. I thought that there was respect on both sides.
"A lot of good players on that football field, and two really good teams, I think. I thought the special teams periods were really good. 1-on-1s, and then during the team periods, we were able to get a lot of situations covered," Staley added. "There was a lot of good football on both sides, and that's the way it should be when you have two good teams playing against each other."
While the Chargers offense was facing the Cowboys defense on one field, Staley was over on the opposite field, calling the plays for the Chargers defense. The Chargers defense looked strong with cornerback Michael Davis and OLB Kyle Van Noy both intercepting Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Staley talked about what he saw from his defense on Day 1 of joint practices.
"I liked the competition," he said. "I felt like we were able to play a lot of guys. I thought that we were physical at the line of scrimmage.
"They have a good O-line. They have two of the best backs that you're going defend. They're bigger guys. Zeke [Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott] is as good of a contact back as there is. He has as good of vision and pace there is," Staley continued. "[Cowboys RB Tony] Pollard, he's dynamic. To be able to face two guys like that was great for us.
"[Plus] a quality tight end. A quarterback like Dak [Prescott], who is so experienced and has seen it all. There are a lot of good coaches over there," Staley added. "I thought it was really good competition, both sides. I liked the way we competed on defense today. I felt like we took the field the right way. I liked the physicality and the toughness, overall."
Ekeler details importance of joint practices
For starters like running back Austin Ekeler, the joint practices are a crucial part of ramping up to full game speed by Week 1 of the NFL season. With most starters in the NFL getting limited or zero reps during the preseason, joint practices are the best way to simulate game speed. Ekeler went into his approach of joint practices as he gears up for the season.
"It's all about being on my fundamentals, making sure that I'm efficient, making sure I'm in the right spot doing what I'm supposed to do," Ekeler said. "I think it's just a good mix up for us, definitely when we're able to see a different team because now we can adjust a little bit, play against someone else, we don't have to keep hitting ourselves. For me, I feel like every day is our preseason, until we actually get to Sundays."
During the 7-on-7 portion of practice, Ekeler caught a 50-plus yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert and looked good as a pass catcher during the 1-on-1 matchups against Cowboys linebackers. Ekeler explained the importance of the joint practices and how he can improve his game despite players not tackling to the ground during a practice.
"It's just another layer of how you approach practice." Ekeler said. "[Staley] said, 'Make sure you're treating these reps as your preseason reps.' Obviously, the main thing is not being able to simulate being tackled and making people miss like, 'Did that guy actually make that tackle on me or not?'
"But, definitely would be an on-the-fly adjustment in the games. That's the point. The point is to get you to the regular season," Ekeler added. "There definitely will be an adjustment going into the regular season, but right now, the other 98 percent of football, which is being in the right spot, your assignment, using fundamentals and technique. And then the last little bit is what you can do trying not to get tackled. You can still get out here and get the work in."
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