Chargers’ new coordinator excited by Justin Herbert’s tools

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert runs a drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 27.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

He has been celebrated for his strong throwing arm, overall athletic ability and steely resolve.

Justin Herbert also has exhibited remarkable vision, even seeing with stark clarity into the future.

The Chargers on Wednesday shared via social media two questionnaires their newest top draft pick filled out while in grade school.


As a 9-year-old, Herbert announced that his goals included being a professional football player and living in Los Angeles. (He also wrote that he hated “fish pizza” and, for super power of choice, “able to get invisible.”)

Two years later, Herbert was asked to name his favorite team. His response: “Chargers football.”

“He’s a winner,” Shane Steichen said. “He’s a competitor. He’s got all the intangibles. He’s tough. He’s smart. And he’s got a heck of an arm. You see some of the throws he made in college, they’re big-time, NFL throws.”

Steichen spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday since the Chargers drafted Herbert No. 6 overall last week. It also was Steichen’s first media availability since being named the team’s offensive coordinator.

He held the job on an interim basis over the final eight games of 2019 before being officially promoted in early February.


“I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Steichen, who turns 35 next month. “When you’re a younger coach, you grow up wanting to be an offensive coordinator and, at some point, be a head coach.

As part of coronavirus-related cutbacks, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is cutting his salary by 100% until normal operations resume.

April 29, 2020

“But to get the opportunity to do it, I’m excited. It’s been good having staff meetings with the offense, putting things in and talking through things.”

The Chargers plan to open the 2020 season veteran Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback. Herbert will be groomed behind him with the idea of eventually taking over.

Both general manager Tom Telesco and coach Anthony Lynn have stressed patience regarding Herbert’s development, particularly with teams now operating under the COVID-19 restrictions that are impacting offseason programs.

“I’ll tell you, especially the quarterback position, it can have a huge effect on those guys, not getting those [on-field] reps,” Lynn said. “I don’t care how smart you are, until you get out there and get those reps …[it’s] going to be harder.”

In Herbert’s case, he has to learn a new system with terminology that’s foreign to him. He also will have to adjust to calling plays in a huddle and taking snaps from under center, things he rarely did at Oregon.

In college, Herbert emerged quickly, taking over the starting job halfway through his freshman season. He was a three-time Academic All-American at Oregon and walked onto campus with an impressive grasp of the playbook.

Transitioning into the NFL, however, will be a tougher challenge, particularly with the Chargers trying to win immediately. Coming off an underachieving 5-11 finish, this is hardly a team floundering with a depleted roster.

The Chargers have rebuilt their offensive front, bolstered their weapons on that side of the ball and assembled a defense that projects to be among the NFL’s most stingy.

Steichen praised Herbert’s “ability to retain information” but noted that things can change suddenly and dramatically going from a Zoom meeting to a training camp practice.

“You can retain it and you can talk about it in a classroom setting, but, I think the thing that separates the good from the great is how they can process it on the field,” Steichen said. “We know mentally he can do it. Is he going to process it quickly on the field when he gets here? But we’re excited about what he brings.”

Herbert isn’t the first quarterback to make the journey from the Ducks to the Chargers, and the last time this happened the results were pretty good.

Coming out of Oregon in 1973, Dan Fouts was the team’s third-round pick. Fifteen seasons later, he was bound for the Hall of Fame as the triggerman of the Air Coryell offense.

“I love it, obviously,” Fouts said. “I think it’s a good fit for the team, and it’s a good fit for Justin. The team is very talented. They’re relatively young. I think Justin, whenever he does get the starting job, he’ll do well.”

Before becoming offensive coordinator, Steichen was Lynn’s quarterbacks coach. The team plans on hiring Pep Hamilton to take over that job, according to a league source.

Hamilton most recently was a general manager and head coach in the now defunct XFL. His previous NFL job was with Cleveland in 2016. Hamilton then spent two seasons at Michigan.

A blessing for Henry

Hunter Henry spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since being franchise tagged, something the veteran tight end called “definitely a blessing.” He signed the tag this month to secure a salary of $10.6 million for 2020.

The two sides are continuing talks on a long-term extension and have until July 15 to work out a contract.

Unlike running back Melvin Gordon last year, Henry said he had no interest in holding out and missing any part of the team’s offseason program, virtual or otherwise.

“I wasn’t going to do that,” Henry said. “That’s just not me. ... I’m excited for this team and I’m excited for going into this new stadium with new jerseys, new look, everything.”