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Anthony Lynn changes mind, says Justin Herbert is Chargers’ starting quarterback

Tyrod Taylor, left, and Justin Herbert at practice.
Rookie Justin Herbert, right, has been named the Chargers’ starting quarterback ahead of veteran Tyrod Taylor, who has lost a starting job with two teams because of injury.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Anthony Lynn spent the past two-plus weeks insisting Tyrod Taylor would return as the Chargers’ starting quarterback.

But three games of Justin Herbert changed the coach’s mind and the franchise’s direction.

Before taking any questions Thursday on a videoconference with the media, Lynn announced Herbert would remain the team’s starter moving forward, beginning Monday night in New Orleans.

“I like to be decisive,” Lynn said. “I take my time … I don’t want to overreact initially. I wanted this to play out. I’ve seen enough, and I just wanted to go ahead and make it official.”

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Herbert, the No. 6 overall pick in April, was thrust into the starting job in Week 2, after Taylor suffered a punctured lung in a pregame accident that the NFL Players Assn. is investigating.

A member of the Chargers’ medical staff inadvertently knocked Taylor from the lineup by puncturing his lung while attempting to administer an injection for a previous rib injury.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NFL practice squads can carry 16 players. Six can be veterans, defined as players with more than two accrued seasons.

At least in part to the unusual circumstances, Lynn remained steadfast in his belief that Taylor, when fully healthy, should be given the starting job back. A decision had to be made this week with Taylor returning to practice.

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“It was difficult,” Lynn said of demoting the 10-year veteran, “because it wasn’t something of his own doing.”

Lynn explained Taylor “did not take it well” when informed of the decision because of his competitiveness and desire to continue guiding the Chargers offense. But Lynn praised Taylor’s professionalism and said he expected Taylor to support Herbert and “lead by example” as the team’s only unanimously selected captain.

“It was difficult under these circumstances,” Lynn said. “But I just, after three weeks of watching Justin, this is why we brought him here, to be our franchise quarterback. I just feel like it’s time now.”

In his emergency start against the Chiefs, Herbert finished 22 of 33 for 311 yards and a touchdown as the Chargers pushed the defending Super Bowl champions into overtime before losing.

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Though the Chargers are 0-3 in Herbert’s starts, he has completed 72% of his passes, averaged 310 yards per game and thrown for five touchdowns with three interceptions.

Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert deals with the Kansas City Chiefs pass rush in his first NFL start.
Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has played well under pressure.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I think this young man is just going to continually get better,” Lynn said. “And I know we can win with him. I believe that. We haven’t done it yet. But I do believe those wins are coming.”

After the draft, the Chargers planned to go with Taylor as the starter while grooming Herbert to eventually take over. That plan seemed to make even more sense after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NFL’s traditional offseason program and forced the cancellation of preseason games.

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“I thought it would have been ideal for us to play this year with Tyrod Taylor as the starter and Justin watching and learning,” Lynn said. “But it didn’t work out that way.”

Given the opportunity, Herbert has proven himself to be a potentially long-term answer at quarterback. He has displayed a strong and accurate arm, composure and toughness.

Lynn said he was swayed by the “total package” Herbert offers, noting his mental and physical skills and his impact on those around him. He also singled out Herbert’s consistency and how he has handled pressure, on and off the field.

With two games already postponed because of positive coronavirus tests, the NFL could benefit from expanding the season to an 18th week.

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“He has all the physical tools and talent in the world,” Lynn said. “But I believe playing that quarterback position is more mental and intangibles. … I like the way he has managed the huddle. I like the way his teammates are responding to him.”

For Taylor, the situation is similar to one he went through two years ago. He was the starter in Cleveland in 2018 before suffering a concussion in Week 3 and replaced by No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Taylor did not start again for the Browns, and Lynn said Herbert need not worry about losing the Chargers’ job to Taylor now.

“I want to see more of him,” Lynn said of Herbert. “It’s not going to be a situation where he’s looking over his shoulder. He’s our starting quarterback. He makes a bad play, has a bad game, he’s our quarterback, OK?”

If Taylor makes it through practice over the next two days, he will be Herbert’s backup against the Saints.

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Etc.

The Chargers continue to be without wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring) and offensive linemen Bryan Bulaga (back) and Trai Turner (groin). Defensive end Joey Bosa (triceps/knee) also missed practice Thursday. Bosa on Monday said missing time the past two weeks has impacted his preparation and therefore his play on Sundays. “Not feeling great techniquewise,” he said. “But that’s just an excuse. I have to do a better job.” ... Running back Austin Ekeler (hamstring) said this week on social media that has a Grade 2 strain and “hopefully” will miss no more than four to six weeks.


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