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Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert’s growth as a player leads to Pro Bowl selection

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert gets a pass off despite pressure from Kansas City Chiefs' Tershawn Wharton.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert gets a pass off despite pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton at SoFi Stadium on Dec. 16.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He talked about the importance of listening to his coaches, trusting them because they know best how a player can continue to improve and develop.

About to begin his second NFL season, Justin Herbert then mentioned the need to not dwell on errors.

“If you make mistakes, so what?” the Chargers quarterback said this summer. “You move on to the next play. You get to answer back. … You come back and tell the guys, ‘I’m OK. I’m going to make the next play.’ Them knowing that, I think that’s half the battle. As soon as you can fight through adversity, I think you can do anything.”

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Four months later and in a season during which he has placed his name in the NFL MVP discussion, Herbert was named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a testament to him and his hard work,” coach Brandon Staley said. “It’s a testament to his teammates. It’s a testament to his coaching staff. He’s certainly worthy of that selection.”

Herbert was one of six Chargers honored by the league as Pro Bowl selections. He was joined by rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater, safety Derwin James Jr., edge rusher Joey Bosa, center Corey Linsley and wide receiver Keenan Allen.

The Chargers placed No. 2 QB Chase Daniel and backup DL Joe Gaziano on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday. Those moves brought to nine the number of players added to the list in two days.

Herbert, Slater, Linsley, James and Bosa were all named starters. Dan Fouts was the most recent Chargers quarterback to be picked as the AFC’s starter in 1983.

Also for the Chargers, running back Austin Ekeler, wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Jared Cook, fullback Gabe Nabers and defensive lineman Linval Joseph were named Pro Bowl alternates.

Herbert and Slater were the Chargers’ top picks — taken sixth and 13th overall, respectively — the last two drafts.

“It’s not just in pass protection where he’s excelled,” Staley said of Slater. “He’s excelled in the run game. We’ve run the ball at a high level. He’s been a big reason why.”

James, an All-Pro as a rookie in 2018, made his second Pro Bowl after missing the 2020 season because of a knee injury.

Allen has been named to five consecutive Pro Bowls and Bosa to three in a row and four overall. Linsley, an All-Pro last year with Green Bay, is a first-time Pro Bowl pick.

Herbert was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year last season, setting several franchise and league records after taking over as the Chargers’ starter in Week 2.

Before his second season, he faced questions about how he could improve and how defenses might be better prepared to stop him.

Herbert began answering those questions immediately when he passed for 337 yards and threw the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ season opener at Washington.

Except for a brief midseason lull, Herbert has produced consistently and impressively, winning the AFC’s offensive player of the week three times and leading the Chargers (8-6) into a playoff position with three games remaining.

“I think what he would tell you is that it’s because of his teammates,” Staley said. “We’ve had a really, really quality season around him. He’s been at the center of everything that we’ve done as a football team.

“I’m so proud of his season. I’m so proud of how he’s leading our football team, just as proud of his performance, of him being a team captain and the way he affects us that way on a daily basis.”

Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has his shoe pulled off as he is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Deandre Baker.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has his shoe pulled off as he is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Deandre Baker at SoFi Stadium on Dec. 16.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Herbert is third in the NFL in passing touchdowns (32), tied for third in completions (360) and fourth in yards passing (4,058). He and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady have the most 300-yard games (seven).

He also has led the Chargers on five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

“He going crazy,” said Allen, who called Herbert “savage” and the league MVP. “He’s leading us in his second year. He’s making outstanding play after play. … He’s throwing touchdowns to everybody on the field. He’s ridiculous.”

Like Herbert the year before, the Chargers received a break in April when Slater was still available in the first round.

Coming out of Northwestern, he was described by some analysts as perhaps a better fit at guard because of his arm length. The Chargers instead put Slater at left tackle and never wavered.

He, too, shined in the team’s season opener, mostly dominating Washington’s Chase Young — the NFL‘s reigning defensive rookie of the year.

Slater has given up four sacks and 22 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, while playing every offensive snap this season.

“He just doesn’t make very many mental errors, and there’s so much that he’s responsible for,” Staley said. “I think that he’s just got real presence.”

The additions of Slater and Linsley have especially bolstered the Chargers’ offensive line, which had been an area of weakness.

Staley praised Slater’s “overall maturity, his composure.” Slater joined the Chargers as a player already recognized for his hard work and dedication to things such as film study.

“His best is to come, too,” Staley said. “He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be as a pro player. … He’s definitely deserving.”

James is third among NFL defensive back with 103 tackles. He also is a candidate to be the NFL’s comeback player of the year.

After a standout rookie season, James was limited to five games in 2019 because of a foot injury. He then sat out 2020 after undergoing surgery on his knee.

The Chargers announced that Joey Bosa will miss Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans. He was one of seven players L.A. moved to the COVID list.

James has missed one game this season because of a hamstring injury that also limited him last week against Kansas City.

He didn’t practice Wednesday, leaving in doubt his status for the Chargers’ game Sunday at Houston.

Bosa leads the NFL with six strip-sacks. He also has 20 quarterback hits and a team-leading 9½ sacks.

Linsley signed with the Chargers in March after seven seasons with the Packers. He and the Chargers agreed to a five-year, $62.5-million contract that included $26 million in guarantees, making Linsley at the time the league’s highest-paid center.

Pro Football Focus has Linsley graded as the third-best out of 38 qualifiers leaguewide at his position.

Allen, who has 92 receptions for 1,007 yards and five touchdowns, has topped 1,000 yards in a season five times in his career. His five Pro Bowl selections are the most by a wide receiver in franchise history.


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