Los Angeles Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco faced his biggest challenge of his tenure in 2020: find a long-term replacement for Philip Rivers. After 16 seasons with the organization, Rivers failed to lead the team to a Super Bowl. Add in the emergence of Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, Telesco had to think about the Chargers future. To the good fortune of the organization, they secured his long-term quarterback by selecting Justin Herbert out of Oregon at sixth overall in the NFL Draft. Through 49 games, Herbert emerged as one of the top passers in the league by winning Rookie of the Year while throwing for over 14,000 passing yards and 94 touchdown passes.
Los Angeles made the postseason for the first time in four seasons but was on the bitter end of a historic comeback in a Wildcard loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A symbolic end to a successful, yet frustrating season impacted by injuries. Herbert’s ribs, losing both Rashawn Slater and J.C. Jackson early in the year, a core muscle injury to Joey Bosa, etc. However, the Chargers enter this season with promise and upside, especially for what could be a historic season for their young quarterback.
Will we see the best version of Justin Herbert yet?
The wildcard loss hung over Telesco’s head as he faced pressure from outside the organization to move on from Head Coach, Brandon Staley. The fan base was frustrated after watching the team get outscored 24-3 in the second half, especially with the secondary securing four interceptions from Jaguars quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. Telesco stood by Staley, but made a significant change to the offensive staff by moving on from Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi.
Telesco brought in Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, who spent the last four seasons as Dallas’ primary play-caller. College football fans will recall Moore’s standout career at quarterback at Boise State, but the Washington state native established himself as one of the top young offensive minds in the league. Moore’s offenses in Dallas twice lead the league in total yards in 2019 and 2021 while leading the league in points. He was essential in the development of Dak Prescott working under Jason Garrett and Mike McCarthy. The 34-year-old coach has had his name mentioned frequently in possible head coaching jobs as well. An MVP-like season from Herbert could push Moore to the front of the line for a head coach position.
Healthy offensive line
As previously mentioned, Justin Herbert was banged up this season. A hard tackle in Week 2 against the Chiefs forced him to play the remainder of the 2023 season with fractured rib cartilage. It’s easy to see how much the offensive line played into Herbert’s difficulties taking a career-high 38 sacks last year and his athleticism became nonexistent in the running game with zero rushing touchdowns. Fortunately for him, a revitalized offensive line should make his job easier.
They’ll be led by veteran center Corey Linsley who became a vocal leader on the line since joining in 2020. The most proactive addition came in tackle Rashawn Slater out of Northwestern. The 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft became the answer at left tackle earning All-Pro second-team honors. He’ll look to continue that momentum now recovered from the ruptured bicep that prematurely ended his season. The 2022 rookie class brought in Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer, both of whom will start alongside Linsley. If 5th-round pick Jordan McFadden can showcase the same talent Tigers fans witnessed at Clemson, the offensive line could be the best Herbert played with since Penei Sewell was his left tackle at Oregon.
Horned Frogs to the rescue?
Justin Herbert has relied heavily on veteran wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The duo is responsible for over 5,500 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns. Armed with the talented duo and a running back room featuring Austin Eckeler and Joshua Kelley, that didn’t stop Telesco from adding more playmakers. The draft brought Quintin Johnston and Derius Davis out of Texas Christian University in rounds one and five. They emerged as primary options in Sonny Dykes’ offense and will become featured prominently within Moore’s offense this year.
21st overall pick Johnston has the same size profile as Williams at 6’3″ for a big-bodied target with downhill speed and useful on 50/50 balls in the end zone. Derius Davis’ explosiveness is among the best in college football last year. He made an immediate impact on the return game while adding over 1,000 receiving yards over the past two seasons. With the selection of TCU quarterback Max Duggan, Herbert and Moore now have an inside perspective on how to effortlessly transition them into the offense.
Herbert will be entering his fourth season as starting quarterback. Now with playoff experience and a new offensive play-caller, his potential is as high as it’s ever been. While easier said than done, a healthy offensive line and two potential impact receivers will help him. The momentum is building and it’s up to him to deliver this season.
Main Image: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK