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Chargers coaches have a new plan for Justin Herbert success


As the reimagining of the Chargers continues, one of the ideas of the team’s new regime is to get more from Justin Herbert by asking less from Justin Herbert.

Since his NFL debut in September 2020, the quarterback and his powerful right arm have driven the Chargers offensively.

First-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are now bent on providing Herbert with a running game that would give the Chargers their most complete offense in years.

“Not everyone needs to function like Peyton Manning did to win football games,” said Andy Bischoff, Harbaugh’s run-game coordinator and tight ends coach. “Can [Herbert] do that? I mean, the guy’s brilliant. … This is a guy with rare intelligence.

“However, in our system of football, do we really need to put him under that much stress on every single down? The answer is ‘no.’ How do you do that? You have a balanced offense that brings out the greatest strengths in everyone.”

Herbert has had a stellar start to his pro career, setting numerous franchise and league passing records. He was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2020 and made his first Pro Bowl the next season.

But the Chargers are only 30-32 in his regular-season starts, with Harbaugh already the third head coach under which Herbert has played. Herbert also lost his lone playoff game.

Supplying Herbert with stronger ground support has been one of the resounding and oft-repeated themes since Harbaugh was formally introduced in early February.

“In general, he’s embracing everything we’re doing,” Bischoff said of Herbert. “I think he feels a fresh perspective that’s centered on providing the best offense that he’s played within.”

In Herbert’s four seasons, the Chargers have finished 18th, 21st, 30th and 25th league-wide in rushing yards. The team, quite famously, has struggled in recent years in short-yardage situations.

Since Harbaugh’s arrival, there has been a stated emphasis on becoming more physical. During his first media session, offensive coordinator Greg Roman marveled at what Herbert might look like when armed with a ground attack.

The Chargers allowed Austin Ekeler, a smaller and more elusive back, to depart in free agency and replaced him with pile-pushing Gus Edwards, a forceful threat general manager Joe Hortiz labeled “a finisher.”

“We want to protect him [Herbert] so that he can be at his best,” Bischoff said. “We want to provide a run game that can give us balance. And we want to be an offense that’s different and unique for him to be able to function at his best.”

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards runs on a field.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards is set to play an important role in the Chargers offense.

(Perry Knotts / Getty Images)

Because of salary-cap limitations, the Chargers were unable to invest heavily in free agency. But one of their first landed targets was Will Dissly, a tight end with only 127 receptions in six seasons.

Dissly, however, is recognized as one of the NFL’s premier run blockers at the position. The Chargers guaranteed him $10 million over two years, their largest financial commitment of the offseason.

Having traded Keenan Allen and released Mike Williams, this is a team in significant need of wide receiver help. Yet, the Chargers drafting an offensive lineman with their first pick later this month remains a real possibility.

“This offense and this building is an O-line-centric space,” Bischoff said. “Whatever it was in the past, I don’t know. I didn’t live here. I’ve been here for five weeks, but I can tell you this: This is going to be an O-line-centric building.

“When it comes to our strength program, it’s built around the O-line. Everybody else fall in line. Some people don’t value offensive linemen; we do. That will be shown in how we approach everything.”

Yes, this promises to be a departure for the Chargers, who, before Herbert’s emergence, were led for 14 years by Philip Rivers, another quarterback known for his ability to sling the football.

During meetings Monday, Bischoff said Roman used the word “epic” to describe the offense the Chargers’ coaches are pursuing. He said Roman even defined the word for the players.

“Why not create something different than ever has been done?” Bischoff said. “As much success as we’ve all had in different places doing different things, none of that really matters. All that matters is right now and creating that here.”

Asked what “epic” might look like on the field, the coach specifically mentioned high point totals and low turnover numbers. He said it’s of little relevance whether the production comes through the air or on the ground.

Twice, he referenced having players who are “smart, tough, dependable.” He later added a fourth quality: “vicious.”

“You want numbers that have never been seen before,” Bischoff said. “When it looks right, it’s a beautiful thing.”


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