There has been a lot of praise thrown to Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert after an impressive rookie year. He won numerous rookie of the year awards and has given Chargers fans hope for the future. Former NFL and NCAA head coach Jim Mora was very impressed with this rookie year but wasn't surprised.
"My evaluation very early on was this was a rare, rare, rare talent, the combination of the height, the body type, and then most importantly, the intelligence, the decision making and the arm talent, I thought made him a really special prospect," Mora said.
Mora coached at UCLA for seven seasons and didn't get a chance to face the former Oregon Duck, but he kept his eyes on the Pac-12 after leaving it in 2017. Mora has been an analyst for ESPN's College Football, so he is around the game.
There was some negativity of the young quarterback when he entered the 2020 NFL Draft. Mora brushed that off because of what he had seen from the quarterback in his four years at Oregon.
"I was always incredibly impressed by his demeanor on the field, his ability to calm and yet project confidence and project toughness, and I think that's rare," said Mora.
Herbert was told he was starting against Kansas City five minutes before the game started due to a medical emergency with Tyrod Taylor. He scored 36 touchdowns on the season, throwing for over 4,000 yards, and won six games.
He broke numerous records, but something that is overshadowed is that due to the pandemic, Herbert didn't have a regular rookie offseason. There was no rookie minicamp, traditional minicamp, or a lot of in-person communication. Everything was virtual.
"Repetitions are so important," Mora explained. "Being around your teammates on a daily basis is so important. In last year's offseason drastically different. He didn't have those opportunities to get on the field, get in the huddle be in a meeting room with his teammates, he didn't have the opportunity for in-person learning with his coaches."
It didn't matter to Herbert.
He stepped in, stepped up, and showed out.
One relationship that Mora pointed to consistently was the one between the rookie quarterback and pro bowl receiver Keenan Allen. Herbert targeted the receiver 139 times this season. They completed 96 passes, and it was evident that the veteran receiver was Herbert's go-to receiver.
They also connected for eight touchdowns this season, which tied a career-high for Allen. They only played in 13 games together, but the future connection of theirs is bright.
"It feels to me like he and Justin have developed an amazing rapport," said Mora. "When I would watch the Chargers play, and Keenan would catch a touchdown pass. What was so impressive to me about him is the way he would always involve Justin, you know, he would go right to him, he would pat him on the head or pat him on the back, and he would make it known I think in nonverbal ways that this kid right here I got faith in him."
Now that his rookie year is over, this offseason will be critical for Herbert. Teams will have the opportunity to sit down and analyze his game all offseason. He will need to take his game to a whole new level next season.
"I think he's to continue to learn about himself and about defense," said Mora. "So, just as defenses are studying him to see what he does well, and what he doesn't do well, he has to study himself, and his coaches will help him do that."
Herbert is a student of the game, and he told the media at the end of the season that he would be reaching out to current and former quarterbacks. He wants to pick their brains to see what he must do to take his game to the next level.
His newest head coach, Brandon Staley, could hold the key to Herbert taking the next step.
"Him being able to maybe sit in a meeting with Justin and say, 'Listen, this is how they're trying to attack you,'" explained Mora. "I spent a lot of years coaching in offensive coaches, and defensive coaches sometimes look at the same play and see different things, you know, just because our perspective teaches us to see it differently and still, having a head coach that's had so much success on defense, being able to kind of get in his ear and say this is really what they're trying to do on defense. I think that'll help him."
Everyone knows that New England Patriots Bill Belichick is a defensive-minded head coach, but had one of, if not the best quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady. Belichick would sit with Brady in the offseason, and they could go through every single defense they faced, and they will face.
This could be the way Herbert grows as a quarterback, which would help the team succeed. For now, Herbert will continue to work hard and get ready for the 2021 season.
"I'm looking forward to continuing to see that team progress and especially Justin Herbert," said Mora.