Is Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert the right fit for Chargers?
A year ago in this same spot, coach Anthony Lynn was armed with a quarterback on his way to starting 235 consecutive games.
For a franchise in flux, one that is still trying to regain its balance after a turbulent relocation, the Chargers always had a steadying pillar in Philip Rivers.
This week, back at the scouting combine, Lynn faced questions about possibly turning to a quarterback who never has appeared in an NFL game.
A lot can change in this league, and in a hurry, especially when 12-4 becomes 5-11.
“If we had to start one, then he must have been the best option available,” Lynn said, when asked about going with a rookie quarterback in 2020. “There’s going to be competition, for sure. And we want to play the best players.”
The Chargers have until May 30 to exercise the fifth-year option on receiver Mike Williams’ rookie contract, which would pay him close to $14 million in 2021.
That leaves the upcoming draft, for which several prognosticators have the Chargers taking a quarterback with their first pick — No. 6 overall. And the most-popular candidate to be that selection: Justin Herbert.
“To be honest, I think it’s a situation where anywhere I go I’m happy,”said Herbert, the former Oregon Duck. “I know it sounds kind of cheesy and politically correct, but it’s not. I’m excited to go wherever I go.
“I just want to play football for as long as I can. And to be given a chance to be here, at this place, is enough for me. I’m excited to be here. I want to get better, do everything to play football for as long as I can.”
He certainly looks as if he belongs, at 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds. Herbert spent four seasons at Oregon, last year winning 12 games and the Rose Bowl while throwing for 32 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
But, in the Ducks’ free-flowing scheme, he has limited experience operating under center and directing a huddle, Herbert’s ability to lead something NFL evaluators are probing.
He admitted his continued maturation includes a drive to be someone others will want to follow. Along with his play, Herbert is trying to develop his presence.
“I think the kid that showed up at the University of Oregon isn’t me anymore,” he said thinking back to 2016. “There are aspects of my game that have changed. I’ve become more vocal.
“I’ve become more outgoing. There are things you have to do to be a quarterback and the way a quarterback carries himself. I think I’ve done a great job of becoming that over these past four years.”
General manager Tom Telesco, asked to identify the attributes he’s looking for in his next quarterback, cited the attributes of his past quarterback.
The Chargers cherish a lot of what Rivers brought to the franchise the past 16 years. That includes an ability to maintain order on offense, particularly during times of complete disorder.
“You want that intangible part,” Telesco said. “It’s very important for the quarterback to be able to lead, to have work ethic, preparation skills, handle adversity — all of those skills.”
Tom Brady, who has won six Super Bowl rings, will be a free agent and rumors persist about the quarterback signing a contract with the Los Angeles Chargers.
In studying their potential draft picks, the Chargers will seek the opinions of people at the appropriate schools. Telesco said it’s important, when assessing things that can’t be easily measured, to talk to those who know the players best.
But he also said leadership can be detected by scouts, assuming they watch the games closely — especially after plays.
“You get a feel for it when they come off the field after a bad series,” Telesco said. “When they come to the sideline, how they handle their coaches, how they handle their teammates. … So, trying to put that whole picture together.”
Unlike some of the other top prospects, Herbert will participate in drills this week, including throwing the football.
He also has been meeting both formally and informally with teams searching for answers at the sport’s most important position. Wherever Herbert ends up, as a top pick, he’ll be expected to make an impact sooner rather than later.
That made one of his comments this week particularly notable. Asked if he believed he could start as a rookie, Herbert admitted he wasn’t sure.
“I’ve never played a down in the NFL,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you what the speed of the game is like. I’ve watched as much as I could and I feel confident with my abilities, but I’ve never played in the NFL.”
That will change at some point, perhaps at some point in 2020, perhaps early on ... perhaps with a team like the Chargers.
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