Below are three takeaways from Derwin James' end of season press conference as he reflected on his Pro Bowl season and looks ahead to 2022.
Returning from injury
After playing five games in 2019 and missing the entirety of the 2020 regular season, Chargers safety Derwin James bounced back in a big way in 2021. James returned to his Pro Bowl form, recording 118 combined tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in 15 games this season. James ranked second in tackles for the Bolts in 2021 and recorded the third-most tackles by a safety in the NFL.
Following the season, James spoke about what he was able to achieve on the gridiron after missing a full NFL season just a year ago.
"I feel like I achieved a lot," James said. "Just want to say, 'Thank you,' to everybody that made this possible, helping me get back home. I feel like next season is going to be an even better season. I'm getting comfortable in this defense. I feel like we're going to make even more plays next year, just being in this defense for another year."
As he reflected on his recovery process last year, James talked about what he missed most when he wasn't able to suit up on gamedays.
"The relationships that I've built over this season and the guys that I went to battle with every week," he said. "We didn't have all of our guys every game, but just putting the gameplan together every week to go out and try to get as many wins as we can, I feel like that's what I missed the most when I wasn't able to be out there. Being able to do that again, finally, and help the guys as much as I can, I feel like that really stood out to me the most."
First season in Staley's scheme
With the unique size, speed, strength and football IQ that James has, head coach Brandon Staley was able to fit the Bolts Pro Bowl safety in multiple roles across the defense this season. James stepped up to the challenge whenever his number was called, and at one point, he was asked to play five different positions along with relaying the play calls simultaneously.
James explained how he felt in Staley's new scheme and his play-calling responsibilities.
"It was smooth for me," James said when talking about being the play caller on defense. "For the most part, it was smooth. We were in all of our calls; we just have to execute and focus a little more. I feel like every game, we were lined up and ready to play. Just have to focus in and, like I always say, beat the man in front of you."
Staley brought his scheme to the offensive side of the ball as well, making going for it on fourth down a hallmark of his team. James shared his thoughts on this as the Bolts ended the season ranked fifth in fourth down conversions.
"We have his back," he said. "I run with my coach. That's my coach. We support all of his decisions. When we went for it on the fourth down, we didn't get it, but on defense, we held them to a field goal, so that didn't matter. We just have to be ready and execute. Whatever coach goes with, we're going to ride with him."
'Come back stronger next year'
As the 2021 season ends, the Bolts shift their focus to getting to the next level as a team in 2022. James explained how although they weren't able to make it into the playoffs this season, he will look back at 2021 as a building block for the future.
"I feel like we have a lot of great pieces," he said. "If you look around at every position, we had guys break records — had a quarterback throw for 5,000 yards, had two receivers over 1,000 yards, Ek [RB Austin Ekeler] had 20 touchdowns. There are a lot of great players that we have around here and a lot to build around. I can't wait for us to come back stronger next year."
James also talked about how as the season progressed, everybody on the Bolts felt more comfortable as a unit from the rookies to the veteran players. For James, finding comfort heading into year two of Staley's scheme will help them unlock more success.
"I'm going to be very confident," James said. "I feel like there's more for everybody, myself included. I feel like I'm going to be able to make more plays and everybody will be just a little more comfortable just being in it and seeing it again. It was everybody's first time and I know for the second time around we are going to be ready."
As for offseason plans, James explained his focus is to 'rest and recover' in order to get his body and mind right first. Once he's rested up then it'll be time to get back to football and prepare for the 2022 season.
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