Derwin James called game.
With day two of joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers coming to a close, the All-Pro safety – guarding fellow All-Pro tight end George Kittle in 11-on-11 – picked off Jimmy Garoppolo in the red zone and went the other way for a pick-six. For the Chargers, it was the exclamation point on a productive pair of days against an opponent that's expected by many to be NFC contenders.
"That's a special matchup," head coach Brandon Staley said of James vs. Kittle. "It's been fun to see those guys go head-to-head the last couple of days. They're two of the best in the entire league — not just at their positions, they're two of the best players in the NFL.
"To see that competition, both in the passing game and in the run game, it was a great environment out there. That was a big-time play."
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Joey Bosa and James have played in only 12 regular-season games together since the 2018 season. Bosa told reporters that it feels so long since the two have teamed up. Perhaps the end of Friday's practice was a preview of what to expect in 2021.
"I love looking at pictures of us both flying up on the edge together," Bosa said. "It's a scary sight. I always say he is one of the best in the league. I truly believe that in any position, honestly, he is one of the most gifted athletes I have ever seen. His energy is unbelievable. To see him out there happy and healthy, it's great."
On the interception, Staley credited James with anticipating the route after Kittle "got him in seven-on-seven on a similar sort of stem." It was a matchup emblematic of the last two days of intense competition between first-, second- and third-teamers alike.
Take a look at some of the best photos from the second day of joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers at Chargers Training Camp 2021.
Staley noted that it's "important to join up with the right team" for joint practices, adding that playing against a club with a different type of style prepares you for what's ahead during an NFL season.
"You also want to measure yourself against somebody really good, and they're really good," he said. "The work that we were able to get in, and collaborating with their staff to create really good practice scripts. I was really impressed with the environment out here. There was a lot of high-level ball out on this field."
For Justin Herbert, who – like James – won't play in the preseason, the practices against San Francisco may have been his most important work of the summer. Herbert benefits from going up against the likes of Bosa and James daily, but if ever there was an environment that mimicked what to expect in Week 1 at Washington, Thursday and Friday was it.
"As long as I get the reps in at practice, that's what's most important," Herbert said. "Those reps out there today are super valuable, and I've been able to learn so much going against the 49ers. Even going against our defense, being able to get those reps is huge for me."
Odds and Ends
- Staley said that Easton Stick will start Sunday's preseason game against the 49ers. Chase Daniel will play the second half.
- Stick and 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance combined for a 66-3 record as starters at North Dakota State. The two will share a field Sunday at SoFi Stadium. "The year I was with him, he worked his tail off," Stick said of Lance. "You can tell that he really loved football and wanted to be great at it. He's a really unique guy. Just his ability to connect with people and lead is pretty special. I am happy for him getting his opportunity and excited to see where that goes. It has been really cool to be out here at the same field and being able to chat with him."
- Rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater missed both days of joint practices and will not play against San Francisco. OT Bryan Bulaga did not practice Friday and OT Trey Pipkins was excused for the birth of his child. Whether other veteran offensive linemen play against the Niners is to be determined. "We're going to work through that tonight and see where we're at," Staley said. "With [G] Matt [Feiler] and [G] Oday [Aboushi], specifically, we're going to see where they're at physically, and then we'll make that determination for Sunday."
- Tight end Donald Parham Jr. (tailbone) did not practice Friday. Staley said he had a good practice on Thursday and that the injury is nothing to be concerned about. Fullback Gabe Nabers (knee) also did not practice. "Gabe has played a lot for us," Staley said. "He's had a really, really, really good camp — he's been one of our top performers on special teams. He had a good practice yesterday. He just had some swelling. Making sure that's calm."
- Herbert on rookie wide receiver Josh Palmer: "He's a very physical guy. He's fast. He's able to go up and get the ball. I think he's talented and he wants to get better. He comes out here every day with me to throw routes and catch. Sometimes I have to tell him, 'Hey, it's time to get off the field, you have a game this Sunday.' He's done a great job, and he's picking it up quickly."
- The Chargers signed wide receiver Michael Bandy on Friday and placed both safety Nasir Adderley and cornerback Ryan Smith on Reserve/COVID-19.
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