Chargers QB Justin Herbert intent on taking control of L.A. offense
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Preparing for his third NFL season, Justin Herbert says he’s focused on mastering the Chargers' offense this summer while not overlooking the little things that make him one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
That means perfecting his footwork on mundane drills like drop backs with quarterbacks coach Shane Day and continuing to refine his throwing mechanics with 3DQB quarterback guru John Beck.
"A lot of it is still working on the drops and minor corrections here and there — footwork in the run game and just being smooth," Herbert said. "A five-, six- or seven-step drop under center is going to be huge. We’re doing our best to utilize that as well as have that balanced run game and pass game out of under center."
Herbert also showed off some gains from his time in the weight room, adding 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-6 frame and getting up to 245 pounds.
"We’ve just been getting after it," Herbert said when asked about his bulging biceps. "I’m thankful to [head strength and conditioning coach] Jonathan Brooks, who’s been leading the charge."
Last season Herbert threw for a franchise-record 5,014 passing yards and 38 touchdowns, but Chargers coach Brandon Staley understands that his QB1 remains a work in progress. He's still just 24 years old and has only skimmed the surface of his vast potential. To maximize that potential, Staley is working to improve the continuity, explosiveness and overall efficiency of L.A.’s offense.
Dating back to his days at Oregon, Herbert has had five different offensive schemes in seven seasons. For the first time in three NFL seasons, he won’t have to learn a new playbook. Staley believes that will help Herbert develop more ownership of the offense and be more in control of consistently getting his team into the right play.
"As a young player, especially at that position, there’s so much that you experience for the first time," Staley said. "Every time you go out there, there’s going to be something that you learn.
"Now, he has two full years of experience. One full year of experience in our system, where I think he can translate that situational awareness even faster. He can really be the lead and run the show. I know that’s what he’s after, to really command that position to the fullest."
For Herbert, that means directing the offense and winning the chess match pre-snap like some of the best in the business, QBs such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. Or like the guy who suited up at quarterback for the Chargers before Herbert: Philip Rivers.
Having an intimate understanding of L.A.’s offense will go a long way in helping Herbert to play more efficiently for the Chargers.
"The biggest thing is understanding that we’re miles ahead of where we were last year," he said. "Last year, we were focusing on calling the right plays in the huddle and making sure everyone was lined up in the huddle and getting lined up on the field. Guys have tons of film to look back on from last year, and we’re farther ahead of where we thought we were going to be."
"The biggest thing with Justin is you can tell he has that fire, perfectionist-type attitude, and Aaron has the same thing," Linsley said during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "They are expressed a little differently. Obviously, Aaron and Justin aren’t the same person. But when Aaron was on — obviously he can’t be stopped — and you weren’t on, Aaron was going to let you know. And it was because he has that perfectionist, competitive fire inside him. And that’s what Justin has."
We’re going to pump the brakes on the Rogers comparison until Herbert actually makes the playoffs. He’s still 15-17 as a starter. And yes, we understand that using win-loss record as a measure of quarterback success can get you thrown out of a pocket-protector NFL analytics convention, but we’ll roll with it.
Herbert’s compiled numbers are impressive. His 9,350 passing yards and 69 touchdown passes are the most in NFL history for a QB in his first two seasons. Last year, he tied for the NFL lead with Brady for most 300-yard passing games (nine) and rushed for the most yards by a quarterback in Chargers' history (302).
Herbert already has developed into one of the best deep passers in the game. Since he was drafted in 2020, he is tops in the league with 10 completions on passes traveling 55-plus yards of air distance, according to Next Gen Stats.
The task this season for Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is to create a more balanced attack that can close out games. To that end, the Chargers added a stout offensive lineman in first-round pick Zion Johnson, a guard from Boston College, to better protect Herbert and get a push in the run game. They brought in a complementary running back to Austin Ekeler in Texas A&M product Isaiah Spiller through the draft. And they signed a playmaking tight end in Gerald Everett, who played with the Seattle Seahawks last season but returns to Los Angeles after starting his career crosstown with the Rams.
The Chargers averaged just 108 rushing yards a contest last season, No. 21 in the NFL. Los Angeles lost three of four down the stretch, so learning how to consistently close out games at the end of the year in 2022 will be important.
Once again, the Chargers are a trendy Super Bowl pick. However, Los Angeles has not won the AFC West since 2009 or even played in the postseason since the 2018 season. The Chargers have made the playoffs just twice in the past decade.
In other words, playing in perhaps the best division in football, Herbert understands that he and his teammates still have a lot of work to do.
"I think we focus on ourselves," Herbert said. "We’ve done a good job of eliminating that extra noise. There are going to be a lot of things said about the AFC West. We’re going to do our best to focus on this house and what we’re doing inside of it.
"If it’s not coming from a coach, a teammate or family member, we aren’t going to pay too much attention to it."
Throughout the NFL world, however, everyone will be paying attention to Justin Herbert.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.