Justin Herbert arguably had the greatest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history, capping an incredible 2020 campaign by winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Herbert set NFL rookie records with 31 touchdown passes, 298.1 passing yards per game and 396 completions. Herbert also had the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history (4,336) and the second-highest completion percentage at 66.55%. His 98.3 passer rating is the sixth highest for a rookie quarterback in NFL history, accomplishing all this in just 15 games.
Herbert, already entering the conversation as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, has been a busy man since winning Rookie of the Year honors. The Los Angeles Chargers quarterback is starting to build up the endorsement deals, reaching a deal with Stryve -- a seasoned beef snack Herbert uses to munch on after games and activities (hiking, fishing and golfing).
What does Herbert have for an encore? Can the Chargers quarterback significantly improve in year two (a scary thought for NFL defenses)? In a one-on-one interview with CBSSports.com, Herbert discusses his spectacular 2020 season and the changes coming to his game -- and the Chargers -- in 2021.
What were you able to see in NFL defenses that allowed you to have incredible success right off the bat?
Herbert: "I had a great support staff behind me with coaches Pep Hamilton and Shane Steichen were two of these guys I worked with over the past couple of months. They were instrumental in our success as a team. Also having an incredible offensive line, receivers, tight ends, and running backs -- that made my job so much easier."
How was Shane Steichen able to help you with your progress?
Herbert: "We talked about the offense so much and having that guy, who is just so smart about football and our offense. I could go to him with any questions and we talked about inside zone, outside zone, and all the run game. I felt I got much better at the line of scrimmage making points and redirecting protection because of him."
What do you think the Philadelphia Eagles are getting in Steichen?
Herbert: "I think they're getting an incredibly smart mind, someone who's going to work super hard for the organization. It's unfortunate we couldn't keep him around here but wherever he went, he was going to have success."
Have you talked to [new offensive coordinator] Joe Lombardi yet?
Herbert: "A couple times. He's down here in California so we've been able to meet up a little bit. He's another smart mind and, coming from the Saints organization, he's had a lot of success. Just listening to him talk about the offense, he knows exactly what he's talking about and I'm really looking forward to playing for him."
Lombardi has been with Drew Brees for a long time. Have you planned on picking Brees' brain at some point?
Herbert: "Ideally, that's the plan! I think Drew works out in San Diego and he's one of those guys I'd love to reach out and talk football with him. How to prepare for teams, how to watch film, so all the things he's been able to do so well over the years."
The Saints offense is a change of pace from what Steichen ran when he was offensive coordinator: a lot of quick passes. Do you feel you have to improve that part of your game?
Herbert: "There's always parts at the position I can improve on. One of the best parts about this offense is a lot of the stuff we did very well last year will probably carry over. It's kind of a mesh between the two offenses and finding out what works best for us, given our personnel and the guys that we got in our offense."
What do you think you need to improve on the most in year two?
Herbert: "I have to master the playbook, and we're going to get a new playbook here in the next couple of weeks. That's something I want to attack and something I want to go into the game having a complete understanding of. Given a certain coverage and a certain pressure, I'm able to get to a play that better puts us into a position to win."
Herbert: "When I talked to Patrick after the Chiefs game, I took a few hits in that game and he said I had to be smarter -- be better at sliding, taking hits, and going out of bounds. That's something I had to learn this year.
"Brady said congrats on the incredible year and good luck moving forward. It was just an awesome opportunity to talk to those guys."
That first start was the one Tyrod Taylor had the chest pains. Taylor gets pulled and you're thrust into the starting role.
Herbert: "The best part about that sudden start was coach Pep Hamilton and I prepared for that type of situation. He told me all year 'Justin, we don't know when you're going to go in or if, but you need to be ready when that happens.' Whether it was Week 2 or Week 15, I worked as if I was the starter. When that time came, I went in and felt comfortable -- just went out, relaxed, and had fun."
One of the biggest stories from your rookie season was your hair cut. So do you plan on growing that back?
Herbert: "(Laughing) Oh I plan on growing it back out! During the time, I just need to switch things up. We were losing and I just thought a switch up would be good. Our strength coach, John Lott, said he could do a buzz cut. We actually did it in the weight room. It was kind of a funny story and I was really glad I did it.
"So we played the Jets (Herbert threw three touchdown passes), and we ended up winning that game. It was a good team win for us."
When you look back on it, you threw a NFL-record 31 touchdown passes,. Do you just look back on the year and say "Wow, I just did that?"
Herbert: "Now that I got more time to reflect and I can watch the film, there's more time for that. I really don't think setting that record was individual. I'm really not here without the receivers, Keenan Allen, Jalen Guyton, Mike Williams, and Tyron Johnson, the tight ends, running backs, and offensive line."