It has been over a year since Derwin James has played in an actual football game. It has been 623 days since James last put on pads and played in a professional game. Sunday will be memorable for the Florida State alum.
He will be playing in the stadium that his favorite player of all-time played at in the late Sean Taylor. James will be lining up with his teammates when his Chargers face the Washington Football Team.
"It means a great deal," said Staley. "I think everyone is aware of the record of this team without him and the record of this team with him. That's, usually, a great predictor of your value. Not just from a pure player standpoint, but from a competitor and leadership standpoint, you can't put a price or a value on the energy and the feeling that you have every day when he's there. Just a rare, rare guy. Really glad that we have him."
The Chargers have missed the leadership and play from their safety. Rewinding to 2018, James had one of the best rookie years for a defender in a while, earning two all-pro honors and being voted to the pro bowl.
He has grown since then as a leader. He has become more vocal in the last two seasons during the time he had in training camp.
"He does so much for the defense," said quarterback Justin Herbert. "He's a guy that flies around and is able to cover guys, able to make tackles. They're going to pressure him off the sides, and they're going to do a bunch of things with him that not too many safeties can do. He's a special guy, a special player, a special person in that locker room. He's been able to do so much for our team."
The incredible stat about James is that he, along with edge rusher Joey Bosa have only played 12 games together since 2018. 12 games. They are two of the most talented players the Chargers have on their team.
When Bosa returned from injury 2018 there were times that he and James would line up on the same side and rush the passer together. They would get through quickly and disrupt the opposing quarterback.
"I love that dude Bosa," said James. "He brings a lot of energy, and he's a great player to play with. We always talk about both of us out there. It's going to be a problem for the offense. Finally, both of us get to go out there on Sunday."
They actually have been working together, and James admitted that he picks Bosa's brain to see how he can improve as a pass rusher.
"Joey's shown me a lot. How to constantly work my hands; how to use my speed to my advantage," explained James. "Of course, what works for him may not work for me. But [he teaches me how] to use my stuff to my advantage, going against running backs and tight ends."
On Sunday, the Chargers defense will be facing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. His story is well known. Fitzpatrick can get hotter than Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four or colder than Mr. Freeze.
"I think he's a great quarterback," said James. "When he's at his best when he's making plays – he'll take a risk and throw to his receivers to get them open. We have to be ready. When he gets hot, he gets rolling. You have to be alert."
So, what do the Chargers defense need to do to turn Fitzpatrick into Frozone?
"Make it about us," said James. "Come out there, play our style of defense. What they're doing has nothing to do with us. Coming out there and being us will take care of stuff."
It will also be the first game that James will be wearing the green dot and calling the defense. He is one of the only, if not the only, safety calling the plays for their defense.
He will be in constant communication with Staley, who will be calling the plays during the game.
"Coach Staley is very open," explained James. "He brings it to us, his plan. He listens to us, he sees how we see it, too. He asks how we see it. We are constantly communicating, and that's what makes him so great as a coach. It's not just, 'Hey, you do it this way.' It's both ends of the stick."
After a long two years of sitting off to the side and trying to get healthy, Derwin James is back.
"It's been a long journey," said James. "There's been a lot of hard work, and now it's finally here."