COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said he's willing to deal with the bumps in the road for rookie safety Derwin James because he understands the Florida State product's enormous potential.
"He is a natural leader," Bradley said. "He's finding his place, but at times he can't help himself. That's who he is. He leads. I love his personality. He has a great spirit about him."
Bradley is mum on whether the team's first-round choice in this year's draft will start this Sunday.
"That's what we're looking at right now," Bradley said last week, when asked if James would start in the team's season opener. "We can't show our hand too much."
Bradley stayed true to form this week, with James not listed as a starter on the team's unofficial depth chart. However, James is expected to play significant time during his NFL debut against the Kansas City Chiefs at the StubHub Center.
"There is going to be a learning curve," Bradley said. "He's going to go out there and he'll make a mistake here and there, but he will also make some splash plays. ... He has gradually gotten better. You can see his confidence growing in the system. If he makes a mistake, now he knows. He'll come over and go, 'That was on me.' I couldn't say that a couple of weeks ago."
James started the final two preseason games for the Chargers, playing a total of 48 snaps. That playing time was important, as it helped him jell with veteran safeties Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips.
James finished with an interception and nine combined tackles in exhibition play.
"He's versatile," Addae said. "He can play the pass and play the run. As you've seen, he can go up and high-point the ball. On third-down packages, we can blitz him. So, there's a lot of different ways we can use him in this defense."
Last season, Tre Boston -- now with the Arizona Cardinals -- served as free safety a majority of the time, playing 854 defensive snaps as the deep safety. But with both James and Addae having the versatility to play as the single safety in deep coverage and close to the line of scrimmage as an in-the-box defender, the Chargers can be more dynamic in their schemes. Addae played a career-high 484 snaps at free safety in 2015.
"We're asking him to do quite a few things," Bradley said about James. "He's playing down [in the box], he's playing back. We're putting a lot on his plate because, really, that safety position we're trying to find out what combination we want to go with.
"That means they really all have to play both positions. As a rookie, that's pretty challenging, and he's picking it up. In the classroom, he's pretty sharp. He just needs to go out on the field and do it consistently."
The Chargers need the versatility in the back end defensively to be more sound against the run in 2018, and they will be tested by an explosive Chiefs' offense on Sunday
Second-year pro Kareem Hunt served as the engine for Kansas City's offense last season, averaging a hefty 4.9 yards per carry and tying LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills for the league lead in runs of 20 yards or more with 12.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Hunt also led the NFL in yards after contact (635).
Against the Chargers, Hunt finished with 327 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, averaging 8 yards per carry.
Having James in the lineup this weekend should help improve the Chargers' run defense against the Chiefs.
"I feel like I will be ready come Week 1," James said. "I feel like there is always room for me to grow. Especially coming in as a young guy, I still want to learn and continue to learn every day.
"There is still a lot I don't know as a player right now. I'm just going to learn as much as I can, and hopefully come Week 1, I'll be ready to go."