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Chargers have seemingly found their franchise QB in Justin Herbert

The rookie needed little time to adjust from college to the NFL. Had he come out of Oregon after his junior year? He might have been a Bronco.
Credit: AP
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Justin Herbert is defying transition.

Quarterbacks coming out of those no huddle college offenses where they look over at the sideline for the play call off a word written on cardboard before running a read-option play exclusively from the shotgun while throwing on the run to any number of wide-open receivers?

They’re supposed to struggle calling a play in the huddle and taking a snap from the center in the NFL let alone have immediate success operating an offense.

But after four years of putting up impressive stats at huge points at the University of Oregon, Herbert has made playing in the NFL look easy.

In his first five games for the Los Angeles Chargers, Herbert passed for 311 and 330 yards in his first two starts, then threw 3, 4 and 3 touchdowns in his next three while also throwing for 290, 264 and 347 yards.

Oh, and he also rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown this past Sunday in a 39-29 win against Jacksonville.

He’s not throwing many interceptions (3) and he’s not taking many sacks (10). What gives?

“I think it’s been a good job both by him and their coaches,’’ said Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. “He’s under center a good bit, so obviously he’s adjusted to that very well. And that’s kudos to him, especially with no offseason and a shortened training camp. He looks very comfortable under center.

“Kudos to their coaches for putting in some of the stuff he ran in college that he felt comfortable with and had success with.

“But also this guy’s just very talented. Looks to me like he’s made up of the right stuff to be a quarterback in the NFL. And fortunate for them and unfortunate for us I think they found their quarterback for the next 10, 15 years.’’

Herbert's Chargers take on the Broncos in a contest of 2-4 AFC West Division teams this Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High (kickoff is at 2:05 p.m.).

Let the record show that had Herbert come out of Oregon after his junior year, he may well have been a Bronco. Team general manager John Elway and his top assistant Matt Russell made their first in-person college scouting trip to watch Herbert play for the Oregon Ducks against Washington State in mid-October 2018.

But once word spread Herbert was returning for his senior season at Oregon, Elway, Russell and another Broncos’ front-office assistant, Gary Kubiak, travelled six weeks later to watch Drew Lock play for Missouri against Arkansas.

A few months later, the Broncos traded back from their No. 10 overall pick to that led to Lock, who fell to No. 42 in the second round.

Remember, Lock looked very good after his first five NFL starts to end last season. Struggles happen for young quarterbacks.

They just haven’t happened yet for Herbert, who is the 7th-rated NFL QB, and highest-rated rookie, with a 108.1 passer rating. Joe Burrow, the only other rookie starter, is 24th with an 89.4 rating.

Like Fangio, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn credited his offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for Herbert’s quick development while adding the young quarterback’s work ethic is also a huge factor.

“We saw his skill set in college and he threw from the pocket,’’ Lynn said. “He did a lot of things we’ve asked him to do here. You have to do things he’s comfortable with as well. … He’s doing a lot of stuff for the first time but I think he’s handled himself well.”

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