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Chargers test Justin Herbert by throwing rookie into fire against first-team defense

Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert throws a during training camp practice.
The Chargers have been putting quarterback Justin Herbert to the test during camp.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Tyrod Taylor remains on track to start at quarterback in Week 1 for the Chargers at Cincinnati.

That doesn’t mean the team is just easing rookie Justin Herbert into the NFL.

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Herbert continued to be challenged Friday when he was matched up for stretches against the Chargers’ starting defense.

“Last couple days, he’s struggled a little bit,” coach Anthony Lynn said before the workout. “There’s a lot going on with protections and when you start doing more third downs. There’s more volume in the offense right now.

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“I think this is going to help him take the next step. It’s good for him to be uncomfortable. As long as he’s uncomfortable and we don’t break his spirit, I think that’s an opportunity for great growth.”

Herbert, 22, is an experienced rookie, having started for four seasons at Oregon, where he threw 1,293 passes for more than 10,000 yards and 95 touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said the Chargers could increase safety Rayshawn Jenkins’ responsibilities this season, moving him around to different positions.

But he also is learning some of the most basic elements of pro football, including how to operate from under center, something he wasn’t asked to do in college.

Through the first week of training camp, the Chargers say they’ve been impressed with Herbert’s progress.

“There’s nothing more important to Justin than football once he steps on that practice field,” quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton said. “He works the game. He’s getting a comprehensive understanding of our system. He’s a conceptual learner, which really helps. And he doesn’t forget anything.”

At Oregon, Herbert was recognized as an elite student, three times being named an Academic All-American.

At 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, he’s significantly larger than Taylor (6-1, 215) and the other quarterback on the Chargers roster, second-year player Easton Stick (6-1, 224).

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Even at that size, Herbert possesses the sort of athletic ability to elude rushers and extend plays by scrambling. He ran for three touchdowns in the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in January.

“He’s out there making plays,” Taylor said. “There’s still a learning curve, a learning process like [with] every young player in this league. But he’s doing his best. He’s going out there and making plays.”

Chargers’ cornerback Casey Hayward believers secondary can become something special now that Chris Harris Jr. is on board.

The Chargers are moving into a new era at quarterback after 14 seasons of Philip Rivers, with whom the team parted ways in February. Rivers is now with Indianapolis.

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Taylor’s most recent start came in Week 3 of the 2018 season for Cleveland. He has thrown only seven passes in the NFL since.

Last season, as Rivers’ backup, he completed just four passes and two went to Andre Patton and Melvin Gordon, neither of whom is still on the team.

“His work ethic and the way he prepares, that’s really not an issue with me,” Lynn said when asked about potential rust for Taylor. “I don’t think that will be much of a problem. Less hits, he’s healthier, he feels good. I think he’s ready to go.”

Etc.

Melvin Ingram’s contract situation appears to be resolved with the defensive end’s $14-million salary for this season now guaranteed, according to an NFL Network report. Ingram had been holding out of practice but rejoined workouts Thursday. …Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. continues to be slowed by lower leg issues. Lynn said Harris has been experiencing cramps. … Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. increased his activity level after dealing with what Lynn called “soreness.”… The Chargers will scrimmage at SoFi Stadium on Thursday.


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