All offseason on the social media accounts of Chargers safety Derwin James, you could see videos of him doing crazy workouts and rehabbing. He worked and worked to try to get back to on the field and finally put that lightning bolt jersey on in a regular season game.
Last Saturday, he received news from his doctor saying that he was cleared to return to practice, and he was ready to go.
"It was a relief," said James. "To be finally physically all the way clear through the medical and everything, but it was just, it just reminded me of how much work and dedication it took to get back to this point."
This was just in time for the beginning of veterans OTAs to do the involuntary portion. Players could show up if they wanted to and could work with the coaches.
When the team came out to practice, the Chargers social media team had their phone glued on number 33. When the media went out to view a portion of practice, everyone was looking for James on the field.
"It feels great, man," admitted James. "I cherish every moment I'm out there, so it felt good to be back on the grass with my coaches and my teammates once again. It felt amazing today."
After practice, Staley admitted that it was great to have James on the field, but he did say they have a plan for his return, and they won't rush him.
"He looks great," said Staley. "He sounds great. As you know, one of his strengths as a football player is his leadership and that energy that he gives everybody each and every day."
Staley added, "when he's out there, our chances increase by a whole bunch, and I thought that he's ready to play."
James had worked out with his trainers. He worked out at the facility. He was actually the first Chargers player to meet head coach Brandon Staley when he was hired in January.
After finding out that Staley would be his head coach, James decided to investigate who Brandon Staley was all about, so he called his "big brother" LA Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
"When I first reached out to Jalen about it, when coach first got the job, he had nothing but positive things to say about him, and that's hard coming from Jalen," explained James. "Everybody knows Jalen, but he had a lot of positive things, and everything he has said, it's been better. So, it's been good."
James has also taken notice of the coaches that Staley has hired.
"We got a lot of guys that got a lot of ball in this league and a lot of experience," said James about the coaching staff. "Right now, they're just coaching us up, just getting us in the right position, and we're just going out there listening, soaking everything again. I'm just trying to be that leader for that DB room and the defense to make sure I'm carrying on that message that they have for the team. So, just making sure we are all together as a team."
The last two seasons have been rough for James after being named an all-pro in his rookie season. He suffered a foot injury in 2019 during a training camp practice against the New Orleans Saints. He returned for the final five games of the season.
Last training camp, he suffered a torn meniscus in the same knee and the same injury while at Florida State. He didn't play a single game for the Bolts. It was hard to keep him away from the game, but he took it as a lesson.
"I feel like I've grown a lot," said James about the last two years. "I got a lot wiser just from watching and rehabbing and just wanting to be out there every year. I really learn a lot, man. I'm just ready to take that next step."
Speaking of Florida State, James is excited that there a couple of former Seminoles on this Chargers roster. He heavily pushed for the team to draft cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., whom he has taken under his wing, and showed him the NFL ropes.
"He already a dog," said James about Samuel.
The defense will be much improved from years past because that is what Staley has been known for years. He is able to help players like Rams edge rusher Leonard Floyd who maybe have lost their way and turned them into high-quality players.
One of the players to watch will undoubtedly be free safety Nasir Adderley, who is coming off a less than stellar second season. He will have James on his opposite side. Even though it is day one, James already started showing his leadership and is trying to help the young safety.
"A lot of people are going to lean on us," explained James. "We're going to have to be the guys to make everything go. So, I told him we got to communicate with everybody. Our communication has to be on point, so everybody knows where we at. Everybody knows what we're doing. In our defense, I feel like we're going to make a lot of great plays together."
James is loud on the field calling out plays. He plays with high energy, and not only are the defensive players happy to have him back, so are the players on the opposite side.
"Energy, impact obviously," said receiver Keenan Allen. "His skills on the field is going to speak for itself, and hopefully, he can just stay out there with us this year."
The Chargers have missed James in the past, from his leadership to his play on the field. One huge takeaway from his press conference on Monday is don't expect these two injuries to change the way number 33 plays on the field.
"It was bad luck," James said about the injuries. "It was just whatever you want to call it. Man, it's part of the game. I'm not the first guy to get injured in football history, and I won't be the last. Also, for me, it's just adversity, man. I just look at it as I play football no matter what. I'm going to bounce back stronger. Bounce back harder. So, I don't really try to dwell on the past too much because now I'm here today, I'm healthy, and I'm ready to go."