When the Chargers selected Derwin James with the 17th-overall pick in this year's draft, they, like many around the league, knew he had the physical talents needed to be a stud safety in the pro game.
But with three weeks of training camp and one preseason game under his belt, it's becoming clearer that James has mental gifts as well.
Playing in the NFL isn't an easy task, especially for a rookie, but Chargers Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley said James has been up for the challenge with an I.Q. to boot.
"I'd put (James' I.Q.) pretty high now," Bradley continued. "We're asking him to do quite a few things. He's playing down (in the box), he's playing back. We're putting a lot on his plate because, really, that safety position, we're trying to find out what combination we want to go with. That means they really all have to play both positions. As a rookie, that's pretty challenging, and he's picking it up. Like I said, in the classroom, he's pretty sharp. He just needs to go out on the field and do it consistently."
For most veterans, they'll say the biggest difference between their rookie and sophomore seasons was learning to not think as much and just play. As Bradley attested, James' real growth will come when he combines the mental with the physical parts of the game. Fortunately, Bradley feels the rookie is on his way to assembling it all together.
"He's very talented with his speed and length," Bradley said. "You saw some plays today (at practice). I think what he is going through right now is, if he's in the classroom and the meeting room and you (ask him questions), he can answer them. He's on it. Now, it's coming out on the field and putting it together. He's in that phase right now, but it's coming. If he makes a mistake, he knows right now (that he made it). It's just that next step, which you see sometimes with young guys. You have to work not to think anymore, and he's kind of at that stage."
As for James, while he said his first game felt a lot slower than he anticipated, he admits there is a learning curve going from college to the pros. But, he understands what he needs to do to take his game in the right direction.
"It's much different," James said. "There's a lot of guys out there like you. There's not a lot of room for error. One step wrong and a guy is going the distance. You really have to hone in on what they're telling you and what you're doing. It's much different than high school where I can get away with a lot of stuff because I was more athletic than most guys. Now you have to come out here and do what you need to do."
With another game on the docket this Saturday, James is looking forward to putting his I.Q. to good use in game action as he believes he's growing each day he's taken the field.
"Every day, I feel like I'm improving. They're slowing it down for me, making it make more sense to me. I feel like I'm just trying to come out here, apply it and it's working."