Derwin James, rookie defenders as good as advertised in preseason debut

The Chargers' young and revamped secondary had a lot to celebrate in the preseason opener. Ross D. Franklin/AP

COSTA MESA, Calif. – After the team allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry last season, Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley knew what he wanted in this year’s draft.

The Chargers selected safety Derwin James in the first round, edge-rusher Uchenna Nwosu in the second round and hybrid linebacker/safety Kyzir White in the fourth round to add more athleticism and physicality to the defense.

“They bring an element of speed to our defense,” Bradley said. “We’re excited about that, but you also know that’s a big transition. Now, how fast do they learn? How fast do they pick up on things and how fast do they eliminate distractions? All of those things come into it, but on tape and what you see and in meeting with them, yeah we’re really excited about them.”

Watching those three fly around the football in the Chargers’ preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals over the weekend, Bradley appears to be on the way to accomplishing that goal.

“It felt great,” Nwosu said about his first experience as a pro. “It was everything I imagined. The crowd, the emotion, the intensity. My family was there. It was great.”

All three played sideline to sideline at the second level of the Chargers’ defense Saturday, finishing with a combined seven tackles, two quarterback hits, a sack and a tackle for loss.

They helped the second-unit defense hold the Cardinals to just a field goal in three quarters of work.

“It felt good getting out there and being able to tackle somebody else,” James said after the game. “We are always going against each other in practice, and Coach [Anthony Lynn] always says protect the team. When you go against other guys, you kind of get to lay it all out.”

Although the Chargers allowed just 17.3 points per contest last season (No. 3 in the NFL), they wanted to improve defensively on third down. The Chargers finished with 39 percent efficiency on third down last season, No. 19 in the league.

Bradley’s concerns about his rookies thinking too much were alleviated Saturday, as all three had no problem playing fast and picking up the defense.

“It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” White said. “I thought it was going to be a lot faster, a lot more going on, but I thought it was pretty slow.”

Now Bradley will be tasked with finding roles for all three with the starters, whether it’s in base packages, sub-packages in obvious passing situations or in short-yardage situations.

Expect all three to see even more time against the Seattle Seahawks this weekend, as the Chargers play for the first time this season at the StubHub Center.

“I just want to keep getting better,” James said. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do, just continue to get better. I still have a long way to go and I have a lot of guys that are helping me.”