Justin Herbert’s intelligence and knack for learning was perhaps his greatest asset coming out of Oregon.
The three-time Academic All-American leaned on his brainpower and natural curiosity to pick up the quarterback position essentially on the fly as a rookie, starting unexpectedly in Week 2 through the rest of the season and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in the process. With a new coach now joining him with the Chargers, he’ll again need to rely on his study habits to pick up another new offense in as many professional seasons.
Fortunately, he’s about to play for a coach who can relate a little bit.
“He’s been awesome so far,” Herbert said of new Chargers coach Brandon Staley, via USA Today’s Mike Jones. “He’s a defensive coach, but he also played quarterback so he knows both sides of the ball, so whether I want to talk to him about offense or defense, he’s got a great feel for the game.”
Staley started at quarterback at the University of Dayton for two seasons and spent his final year of eligibility teaming up with his twin brother at Mercyhurst University, a combined experience he said helped him become a better defensive coach because he can explain it from the view of the offensive player.
“What being a quarterback has done is really opened up my lens, and from a defensive perspective, try and get the player to understand what he’s looking at and how they’re operating,” Staley told the Rams’ official website in February 2020. “And so, it’s really meant a lot to me in my career. I would say that it’s been the biggest benefit for me.”
That background showed in 2020, when Staley directed the Rams’ top-ranked defense — a unit so impressive, it earned him the head job with the Rams’ roommates.
He brings with him a new staff, a new offensive system and a fresh start for the Chargers, who are already lucky to have found their franchise quarterback. Now, it’s up to him, Herbert and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to use their collective intelligence to implement, process and master the offense as a cohesive trio.
If we learned anything from Herbert’s rookie campaign, it’s that he shouldn’t struggle much mentally. Naturally curious like the Herberts who came before him (his father and grandfather), the quarterback and former biology major explained the importance of his intellectual disposition.
“You understand why it’s happening, why they’re doing that, why certain teams play certain fronts, why they bring these pressures, and you get an understanding of that,” Herbert told Jones. “I think the more you have of that, I think the better you are equipped to play the quarterback position. When you’re up at the line of scrimmage, it needs to be so quick, it just needs to be understood immediately.”
Unlike his rookie season, Herbert will likely have a better chance of getting some sort of on-field work accomplished during the offseason, meaning his reps probably won’t have to be entirely mental, as they were when the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to take hold in the United States. But knowing Herbert’s past, he’ll probably get extra mental work in, too.
Should he pick things up as quickly as he did in his first season, the Chargers can hit the ground running offensively while relying on their defensive head coach to hold things down on that side of the ball. History tells us Herbert won’t have an issue.
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