NFL

Chargers QB Justin Herbert Has Been Sidelined by COVID-19, but Not How You Think

NFL teams are about to embark on their most difficult season ever since the start of training camps is the actual start of careers for rookies for the first time in a long time. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert epitomizes the hardship that first-year players are facing.

Herbert’s status as a first-round draft pick projected to be the future face of the franchise by Chargers brass couldn’t protect him from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Los Angeles Chargers were thrilled to draft Justin Herbert

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Everything fell into place for Justin Herbert during the 2019 season at the University of Oregon. Already an experienced quarterback with 63 career touchdown passes, Herbert did just about everything that could be asked of him as a senior.

Herbert threw for 3.471 yards and 32 touchdowns last fall as the Ducks went 12-2. He threw just five picks in 428 attempts and significantly improved his completion percentage from the previous season.

Although fellow quarterbacks Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals) and Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins) flew off the board ahead of him, Herbert earned his status as the No. 6 overall pick in April’s NFL draft. After 14 years as the starter and 397 touchdown passes from Philip Rivers, the Los Angeles Chargers decided it was time to move on, going all-in on Herbert.

Three mostly unproductive months for NFL rookies

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The presumption when a team drafts a quarterback in the first round is that he’ll get a crack at winning the starting job as a rookie. When the team has parted ways with its fulltime signal-caller and doesn’t have a No. 2 with heir-apparent credentials, the expectation is that the new guy can even win the starting job outright in training camp.

To do that, however, the draft pick generally has to log many hours of film study, attack the weight room with vigor, and make an impression in official and unofficial team workouts. Justin Herbert wasn’t able to accomplish any of that in the traditional sense because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has made team facilities off-limits for most of the time since other pro sports were forced to shut down in March.

The virus may not have stopped the NFL from conducting free agency and holding its draft, but shutting down the facilities substantially limited contact between players and staff. Sure, a quarterback can chat with his position coach and coordinator via Zoom or watch tape on Hudl to start learning the offense. But nothing beats taking live 7-on-7 reps under the tutelage of the coaching staff.

And that’s how Justin Herbert became a victim of COVID-19.

Tyrod Taylor is expected to start at quarterback in Week 1

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Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn confirmed that he expects Tyrod Taylor to start Week 1 at quarterback. The last reasonable chance for Justin Herbert to win the opportunity in the offseason went by the wayside once the NFL and the players’ union agreed this month that there would be no preseason games this summer.

Taylor held the backup role to Philip Rivers last season. He is entering his 10th NFL season, and 43 of his 46 career starts came with the Buffalo Bills from 2015-17. Taylor is the classic journeyman who normally would be more valuable as a tutor for the rookie than as the starting QB.

Herbert will undoubtedly challenge Taylor at some juncture of the 2020 season – fingers crossed that we do actually have a 2020 season – but he won’t be ready to go in Week 1, depriving fans of an all-rookie showdown between him and the Cincinnati Bengals Joe Burrow.