Justin Herbert gets hands dirty with fans at Chargers camp, but will wash them
Justin Herbert touched Chargers fans plenty during 2020 with his stellar, offensive rookie of the year performance.
He touched them again Wednesday on the opening day of training camp, running along a fence post-practice to share high-fives and fist bumps.
During these COVID-19 times, the NFL is encouraging players to socially distance from fans.
Herbert apparently simply got caught up in the moment following his first NFL practice that included spectators.
“I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for them coming out,” he explained, before adding he’d make sure to wash his hands.
A positive, welcoming sense surrounded the Chargers as they returned to the field in Costa Mesa in front of a bleacher full of supporters. Last year, NFL camps were closed to spectators because of the pandemic.
Justin Herbert, the NFL offensive rookie of the year, begins Chargers camp as a big-name quarterback. He was an unknown at Oregon just five years ago.
Brandon Staley conducted his first in-season practice as a head coach and afterward called the crisp, 75-minute workout “kind of surgical” and “very well organized.”
“I felt like it was a huge practice,” he said, “for the first time out.”
Staley is installing a new offense and a new defense, making this camp and the Chargers’ three preseason games more significant as learning opportunities.
Also important is keeping the players healthy and fresh, a notion that was obvious on Day 1.
The Chargers opened practice with a 15-minute “activation period” that included slowly warming their muscles with moves similar to those found in yoga. They then transitioned into more traditional stretching.
Staley said he hoped the activation period — it will be part of their daily routine — would be “kind of a winning edge for us.” He also said the shorter workout was by design.
“I wanted our guys to kind of get to the end of practice and say, ‘Hey, I could have gone longer than that,’ ” Staley said. “We’re trying to phase this in properly.”
The 2021 Chargers also won’t practice more than four days in a row. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement permits teams to string workouts for longer stretches than that.
“That’s not what we feel like is best for a player,” Staley said. “We want to create the same rhythm that they’ll have during the season.”
After practicing the next three days, Staley will give his players Sunday off and then return for the first padded practice Monday. After that, they won’t work on the field for more than three consecutive days, a pattern similar to the regular season.
As part of the NFL’s safety initiatives, players also have the option of wearing an extra layer of padding on the outside of their helmets during practice. Running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley both tried out the devices Wednesday.
As with many NFL teams, the Chargers have experienced plenty of significant training camp injuries. In the previous three Augusts, edge rusher Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James and wide receiver Mike Williams were among those who got hurt.
James missed all of last season after hurting his right knee two weeks before the opener. This was after he suffered a fracture in his right foot in August 2019.
On Wednesday, James returned to the same field on which both injuries occurred but dismissed the notion of being leery of getting hurt again.
“The injuries could have happened with me walking down the stairs,” he said. “I’m just trying to put them behind me. We’re healthy now, and I feel good.”
The general health of the Chargers has received a boost in recent weeks as the team is approaching having 90% of its players vaccinated or in the process of becoming vaccinated.
Unvaccinated NFL players will be revealed quickly as training camps open. Whoever is not vaccinated will have to wear a mask at practice and keep their distance from others.
About six weeks ago, at the conclusion of OTAs, the Chargers’ numbers were lagging.
“We’re encouraged, really encouraged,” Staley said. “Where we were in June at minicamp and where we are now are two different places. I’m really proud of our organization, the leadership of our team. … As our guys have learned more, they’ve acted quite accordingly and properly. Proud of where we’re at. … I like where we’re headed.”
The Chargers do have one player on the COVID-19 reserve list, running back Justin Jackson. Staley said Jackson should rejoin the team by the end of the week.
“A lot of information is being spread, positive information,” Herbert said of the Chargers’ improving vaccination rate. “Guys are getting informed and making the decision that’s best for them. … As long as you’re making the best decision for yourself, for your family and for those around you, I think we’re able to celebrate that.”
NFL players need to wake up and get vaccinated. Those who don’t put their teammates in jeopardy in more ways than affecting the outcome of a game.
Herbert met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes took a playful shot at him during a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe this month.
When a fan at the event told Mahomes to watch out for Herbert this season, Mahomes responded, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
He later told USA Today Sports that the comment was taken out of context.
“I was talking some trash to all those Raiders and Broncos and Chargers fans out there,” Mahomes said. “I have a ton of respect for him as a player.”
Said Herbert, smiling: “I think it’s pretty cool that Patrick Mahomes knows who I am. … I’ve got such a great respect for what he’s been able to do. I’ve watched him so much.”
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