As Washington prepares for the Chargers, the focus is on Derwin James

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As WFT prepares for Chargers, the focus is on Derwin James originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Led by star young quarterback Justin Herbert and a collection of Pro Bowl-caliber players on offense, the Los Angeles Chargers enter the 2021 season as a team with plenty of hype surrounding them.

While the Chargers made several major offseason moves -- they completely revamped their offensive line -- perhaps the biggest addition to the club this fall will come by way of someone who's already been in the building for a trio of years.

That would be star safety Derwin James, who is fully healthy after missing 27 of the past 32 games with multiple injuries. And, while James has not played in a real game since December of 2019, Washington is preparing as if the safety will be in his All-Pro form come Sunday.

"They got a dynamic player in Derwin James who's been out," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said on Thursday. "I'm sure he's itching to get back on the field and he can make plays at all levels."

What makes James so special -- and something that head coach Ron Rivera loves -- is his positional versatility. Whether it's lining up deep or in the box, James can play all over the field and be just as impactful on every play.

"A guy like that creates a lot of havoc for you," Rivera said. "I think he's an all-around good player who has his own game.”

In 2018, James' last fully healthy season, he lined up in the box for 418 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He took 216 snaps at deep safety, 205 on the edge and 166 in the slot. Regardless of where he lined up, opposing offenses needed to know where No. 33 was every play in order to be successful.

James' versatility will also allow new head coach Brandon Staley to implement a lot of disguises. Whether he's lining up in the box or back deep, what James will do on every play is a mystery. And, with little film on him over the past two seasons -- and a new defensive scheme implemented in LA -- Washington could see multiple looks that it’s never practiced against.

"You have to be aware of where he is," Rivera said. "You have to just be aware, and you have to account for where he is and it's going to impact and influence the way you're going to run block or you're going to protect as far as pass protections are concerned."

James is far from the only player Washington's offense must account for on every player. The Chargers employ pass rusher Joey Bosa, who is widely considered one of the NFL's best at his position. They also have a bunch of solid cornerbacks, too, including 2010s All-Decade selection Chris Harris Jr.

"They got a good group of players. Obviously, it starts with Bosa," Turner said. "He's a dynamic guy. He can get after the quarterback and we gotta make sure we've got a plan for him."

While Washington's offense will have its hands full trying to out-scheme Staley and the Chargers, there's plenty of mutual respect.

Earlier this week, James was asked about facing Washington's revamped offense and praised new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick plenty.

"If he gets hot, he gets rolling. You've got to be alert," James said. "He's a great quarterback. I think that when he's at his best, when he's making plays, trying to take risks throwing to his receivers to get them open, we've got to be ready."

Both Washington and Los Angeles enter the 2021 season with high expectations. After neither team played their starters a lot during the preseason, Week 1 should be a good measuring stick as to where both clubs are at.

"They got a good group of players and like us, they've been practicing against each other and they didn't play much in the preseason," Turner said. "We played our guys some, but not a ton, so you get guys and they're itching to go play against a real team and play for four quarters. I think we're both in that situation."