Chargers and 49ers go at it

COSTA MESA (News4usonline) – Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley liked the vibe on the first day of two joint practices between his team and the San Francisco 49ers. To Staley, the first practice felt like a game-like setting.

“It felt like a pro atmosphere today,” Staley said. “That’s a really good team over there — a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches. I felt like this was the perfect environment for us. I’m thankful for the Niners, to [49ers General Manager] John [Lynch] and [Head Coach] Kyle [Shanahan]. I felt like there was a lot of good competition out there today.

“In all three phases of the game, I felt that the operation was clean,” Staley continued. “I felt that there was a lot of respect, which is important in these competitive settings. You want to make sure everyone respects each other, respects the game. I felt that was on display, too. I’m proud of that, and I felt like it was an even match today. That’s what we’re after.”

Aug. 19, 2021. Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James (33) matches up against San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) during the team’s joint training camp practice. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

The Chargers and 49ers play one another in a preseason game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 22. From a defensive perspective, the Chargers played soundly against 49ers quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and heralded rookie Trey Lance. Of the two signal-callers, Garoppolo seemed the most poised and appeared to be in more rhythm with his wide receivers than Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

During 11-on-11 team drills, the Chargers forced Lance to go through his reads just to dump the ball off to his running back out of the backfield or connect with his receivers on short, short passes. Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel even picked off Lance during the two-hour scrimmage/practice.

The most impressive player taking the field for the Chargers was safety Derwin James. That’s saying a mouthful. After earning All-Pro honors in 2018 in just his rookie season, James played five games in 2019 because of an injury. And during training camp last year, James suffered a season-ending injury.

For the first time in two years, James actually took the field to play against another team. It felt good, James said.

“It’s big for me,” James said. “We’re going out here going fast. I played against [49ers TE George] Kittle, one of the best tight ends in the league. Their offense is one of the best in the league. Seeing the looks from them only helped me get better.”

Aug. 19, 2021. San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk hauls in a pass against the defense of Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga (57). Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Staley liked what he saw from James.

“He looks like how he looks every time — in command,” Staley said. “The energy, his technique; I think he’s hitting the sweet spot too. He’s running the show out there for us and all that comes with that. Now, he’s measuring himself against a really good opponent.

“We’re talking that [49ers] offensive line, [49ers TE George] Kittle, their backs, [49ers WRs] Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk. That’s a really good group of guys over there,” Staley continued. “Their two quarterbacks are outstanding. I feel like Derwin was able to measure himself because this was a game environment today. There may not have been a stadium of 80,000, but what was between the white lines today was like a game. That’s what we were after.”

James said playing in a joint practice with another team was also good in that he had an opportunity to match wits and physicality against San Francisco tight end George Kittle.

“I liked it. I was the first one over there against Kittle.,” James remarked. “He wanted to see how he was against me, and I wanted to give him what he wanted. It was good going against him. He’s the best and I feel like I’m the best — why not go against him.”