To further Justin Herbert’s success, Chargers preach importance of balance, run game

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers kicked off their second week of Phase One of the offseason program on Monday.

Players were on the field doing weightlifting and agility work with the strength and conditioning staff, including executive director or player performance Ben Herbert. For the opening day of Phase One last week on April 2, players remained in the weight room.

The Chargers have also continued to introduce members of Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff to the media. On Monday, passing game coordinator Marcus Brady and running game coordinator/tight ends coach Andy Bischoff took questions. Running back Gus Edwards, who signed with the Chargers in free agency last month, also held a news conference. And special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken sat down with local writers.

Here is what we learned.

1. Bischoff had the most interesting quote of the day. He spent six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens from 2015 to 2020 and overlapped with offensive coordinator Greg Roman for four of those seasons. Roman was the Ravens’ tight ends coach in 2017 and 2018. Bischoff was his assistant tight ends coach for those two seasons.

Harbaugh and Roman have both spoken about a vision of building quarterback Justin Herbert a physical, reliable running game. Bischoff was asked how he sees Herbert fitting into that vision.

“Every great quarterback when surrounded by a quality run game has the opportunity to have plays that are a little bit of a breather play,” Bischoff said. “Not everyone needs to function like Peyton Manning did to win football games. Can (Herbert) do that? I mean, the guy is brilliant. Intelligence-wise, 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? And the answer is no. And so how do you do that? You have a balanced offense that brings out the greatest strengths in everyone on the unit. Certainly when you have a player of his caliber, you’re excited about the outcome.”

Through the early stages of the Harbaugh era, this sentiment appears to be the biggest deviation from the Brandon Staley-led teams of the past three seasons. Under previous offensive coordinators Joe Lombardi and Kellen Moore, the Chargers put a ton on Herbert’s plate. They felt like they had a transcendent quarterback — physically and mentally — and thought the best path to winning was leaning into that skill set.

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The message under Harbaugh thus far has been building a run game that will take some of that load off of Herbert.

Will it work? That remains to be seen.

Bischoff and Brady both talked about creating a balanced offense. How do the Chargers still maximize Herbert while creating the identity and productivity they want in the run game?

“Obviously you want your quarterback to be able to handle everything — at least understand everything that’s going on,” Brady said. “But the more that you could take off their plate … it just slows down the mind. It’s just less thinking for him. Now he can just go out there and play and let his abilities shine.”

Bischoff said Herbert is “embracing” this ideology.

“He feels a fresh perspective that’s centered on providing the best offense that he’s played within,” Bischoff said. “That’s nothing against what he’s played within. It’s only focused on what we have, our opportunity to do (something) right here and right now. We want to protect him so he can be at his best.”


Ben Herbert lays out player-performance vision as Chargers open Phase One

2. Brady got connected with Harbaugh through former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman, who is on staff as a senior offensive assistant. Brady worked under Trestman for four seasons with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Trestman was head coach from 2008 to ’12. Brady was wide receivers coach from 2009 to ’11 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012. Brady also played seven seasons as a quarterback in the CFL.

Trestman was the Oakland Raiders’ offensive coordinator in 2002 and ’03 when Harbaugh was the quarterbacks coach.

“He’s my mentor,” Brady said of Trestman. “He’s also Jim’s mentor.”

As far as his role, Brady said he is spending his time in the quarterbacks room with QBs coach Shane Day and Trestman. He said Harbaugh also occasionally “pops in” the room.

Brady expects to be “heavily involved” in game planning, particularly with the passing game. He doesn’t know yet what he will be responsible for in week-to-week game-planning but suggested that could involve covering third downs or the red zone. As a passing game coordinator, Brady planning third downs makes sense. Teams are most often throwing in those situations.

3. Bischoff seemed very excited about tight end Will Dissly, who the Chargers signed in free agency.

“You’re talking about one of the three guys in the league that can own the C-gap, period,” he said. “There’s not many of them. This is a different kind of football league we live in now, and to have a tight end that can own the C-gap is rare. He’s one of those guys.”

Dissly is going to be the best blocking tight end the Chargers have rostered since Hunter Henry left in free agency after the 2020 season.

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The Chargers anticipate Will Dissly to provide a blocking element at tight end that’s been sorely missing. (Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

Tight end Hayden Hurst, another free agent signing, will provide an “athletic element” in the passing game, according to Bischoff.

Bischoff added that Donald Parham Jr., a holdover on the roster, has already been turning heads with the strength and conditioning staff. Parham has struggled to stay healthy, but he has always displayed considerable potential in the passing game because of his size, length and athleticism.

“I look at this big, long individual with all of this mass and say, ‘How can we corral this to benefit us?’” Bischoff said. “In football, there’s always examples of guys that didn’t perform somewhere that will perform somewhere else.”

4. Bischoff will be coaching the tight end group, but he will also have a hand in scheming up the run game.

He said that mentality will revolve around the offensive line.

“This offense and this building is an O line-centric space,” Bischoff said. “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, from how we stretch to how we lift to how we run the ball to how we protect.”

There seems to be an alignment on the coaching staff in this thinking, from Bischoff to Harbaugh to Roman.

Edwards spent his first five seasons playing for Roman in Baltimore, the last four with Roman as offensive coordinator and play caller.

“He wants to run the ball and then play off of that,” Edwards said of Roman.

5. Ficken made a couple of interesting points when discussing the NFL’s new kickoff rule.

First, he believes the new rule will lead to more kickoff returns — potentially up to 70 returns throughout the season. Chargers returner Derius Davis had 17 returns last season, just for context. This will affect both the return team and the kickoff coverage team. More opportunities for Davis to make plays. Also, more opportunities for the coverage players to make tackles.



Making sense of NFL’s new kickoff rule and what it means for next season

The NFL moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in 2011. That led to a huge uptick in touchbacks. After 2011, only one player finished a season with more than 22 special teams tackles, according to TruMedia. Higher single-season totals were much more regular before that rule change. Ficken expects the single-season tackle numbers to start rising close to pre-2011 tackles.

“They’re fired up,” Ficken said of his coverage players. “They want to cover kicks as much as they can.”

Second, because the kickoff coverage players and blockers will now be separated by only five yards as opposed to 25 yards, speed players could become less valuable. Teams could also look to use different body types on both units. Short-area explosion could become a more valuable trait. With the old kickoff rule, coverage players had to have a certain level of speed to be viable players.

“Some of these guys that they’re best trait is running and attacking leverage and attacking angles or attacking the edges of these blockers, that’s eliminated,” Ficken said. “That 25 yards of running, which that’s their best trait, is taken out of the game now. So now you’ve got to be a little bit more creative in how you can get guys free and how you can (use) certain techniques, how we can go ahead and attack. And that’s going to be a lot of a simulations stuff that we’re going to be working on here in OTAs.”

Ficken said his approach will be “fluid” throughout the offseason and even into the season as the Chargers feel out the best way to take advantage of the new rule.

“Everything’s possible right now,” Ficken said. “I’m open to anything and everything.”

6. Brady acknowledged that the Chargers “have a small group” at receiver currently. They only have four receivers on the roster: Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Davis and Simi Fehoko.

“We’ll see what’s available to us throughout the draft, throughout the finish of free agency, as well as working with the guys that are here, and then kind of go from there,” Brady said.

(Top photo of Justin Herbert: Kathryn Riley / Getty Images) 

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