Chargers' new offense will require plenty of summer reading and scheming

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) signals during the NFL football team's organized team activities.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) signals during organized team activities in May at the team's practice facility in Costa Mesa. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

He already achieved so much, now Justin Herbert’s reward is that he gets to go to summer school.

The Chargers are fortunate that Herbert was a 4.0 student at Oregon and, in one year as a pro, has proven to be a fast learner.

New schemes on offense and defense will force Herbert and his teammates to study more than normal over the next five weeks before reconvening in Costa Mesa on July 27 for the start of training camp.

“The tough part is memorizing and learning it all,” Herbert said of new coach Brandon Staley’s offense. “That’s where it’s tough because you have to go in there and spend a lot of time watching film, practicing, repping it.”

Herbert estimated that he’d set aside “a couple hours” each day in an attempt to perfect a system in which he’ll make more decisions at the line of scrimmage, giving him the freedom to pick the best play based on what the defense is showing.

The Chargers also will feature more formations and personnel groupings under the direction of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Herbert said there’s “a lot more put on the quarterback” in this offense, adding, “That part I really enjoy.”

Staley’s overarching plan on both sides of the ball is to cause confusion for the opposition, maximize the potential of his playmakers and work to establish and exploit mismatches.

“That’s the NFL,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “The best teams are able to do that, right, able to get their playmakers in certain opportunities where they [can say], ‘Hey, this is where you excel.’”

The games will look different for Chargers fans. An example appeared on social media last week when the team shared practice footage showing Joey Bosa starting in a two-point stance and then sliding over to cover Ekeler on a route coming out of the backfield.

Bosa, a defensive lineman during his five NFL seasons, now is listed as an outside linebacker. Staley prefers to call the position edge rusher.

Either way, Bosa said his job is still “to get the quarterback, first and foremost.” He has 47½ career sacks, production that last summer earned him a contract worth up to $135 million.

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa looks on during minicamp on Wednesday.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa looks on during minicamp on Wednesday. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Bosa acknowledged that in this new 3-4 defense he’ll be dropping into pass coverage at times. He also suggested the scheme is more complex.

“There is a lot more to this defense than I’ve ever been a part of before,” Bosa said. “It’s something that will take some time. But I’m confident in it, and I’m confident that the coaches will do a great job teaching me.”

The Chargers had 100% attendance at their two-day mandatory minicamp that concluded Wednesday. They made it through the offseason program without an injury and, barring anything unforeseen, should open camp fully healthy.

They are among the NFL’s least-vaccinated teams in regard to COVID-19. That means the Chargers will face increased restrictions and be at a greater risk of losing personnel to infection.

Staley indicated that he believes more players will be vaccinated before the season begins.

“We gotta work through it, whatever our situation is,” Ekeler said. “We can’t really control anyone else’s situation. … That’s what we’re focused on, focused on ourselves and making sure we’re ready to play on Sundays.”

Having won five and seven games, respectively, the last two seasons, the Chargers are a popular pick to continue improving. Many over/under projections have them winning nine times during the NFL’s first 17-game season.

The positive vibes likely are based on the presence of Herbert, the return of a healthy Derwin James at safety and the arrival of Staley, even though he’s a rookie coach. Staley’s stock soared with his performance last year as defensive coordinator of the Rams.

“Things are really coming together and people feel like we have a great chance,” Bosa said. “We have all the pieces. … We got everything we needed. I don’t want to get carried away, but it’s exciting.”

In five weeks, Bosa and his teammates will put Staley’s plans into motion and this new version of the Chargers will begin to show itself on the field.

Where this franchise goes from here figures to hinge heavily on Herbert, the prized pupil who will try to build on a season in which he was selected the NFL’s best offensive rookie.

“We’re going to push it together,” Staley said. “Where he was last year is not where we’re hoping to be this coming year. That’s not enough. He knows that. That’s why he’s so much fun to work with, because he’s willing to put in the work.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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