The Chargers hope Pep Hamilton can help Justin Herbert one day become a prime-time NFL quarterback.
For now, the two instead are building their relationship later at night, on Zoom meetings necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We often find ourselves watching ball and talking ball into the wee hours … ” Hamilton said Wednesday during a video conference. “I’m excited to see that he’s a student of the game.”
Herbert was the team’s top draft pick in April, selected No. 6 overall. The Chargers intend on opening the season with veteran Tyrod Taylor as their starter, with Herbert being groomed to eventually take over.
Hamilton praised the abilities of both quarterbacks, as well as the potential of Easton Stick, a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2019. He also suggested he doesn’t believe today’s pandemic restrictions will hinder Herbert too much.
“We’re preparing Justin to be ready to come in and compete from Day One,” Hamilton said.
The job of developing Herbert is a significant one for a franchise looking for its next long-time answer at quarterback. The Chargers also are equipped to compete right now, giving Taylor an opportunity to seize the position.
Hamilton, 45, has spent 11 seasons in the NFL, working with San Francisco, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland after beginning his career with the New York Jets.
He was the Colts’ offensive coordinator for parts of three seasons, also coached at Stanford and Michigan, and is widely credited with helping in quarterback Andrew Luck’s development.
He and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn have a relationship that dates to Lynn’s time as a Jets’ assistant (2009-14).
“I always thought one day I’d probably be working for him,” Lynn said. “And one day I might be; I don’t know. Right now, he’s working for me. I’m glad to have him on our team.”
Herbert has been training with a position coach in Orange County and participating with the rest of the quarterbacks in the Chargers’ virtual offseason program.
Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said a major step in preparing Herbert for the NFL is learning all the “nuances that go in before you start teaching the actual plays and system.”
That process has been ongoing since the Chargers drafted Herbert and was highlighted during a rookie mini-camp the team staged this month.
“Pep’s a heck of a teacher,” Lynn said. “[I have] a lot of confidence in him that Justin’s going to have the help that he needs.”
The Chargers are facing a potentially delicate two-sided season in 2020, coming off a disappointing 5-11 finish but also stocked with a roster full of Pro Bowlers and subsequent expectations.
With the NFL expanding the playoffs by one wild-card entrant in each conference, the Chargers are among the teams forecast to challenge for a postseason berth.
Such an environment could make bringing along a young quarterback an interesting balance of today and tomorrow.
Veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who signed as a free agent in March after nine years in Denver, was witness to the Broncos’ quarterback lineage that went from Tim Tebow to Drew Lock.
He was in Denver for Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch and watched last year as Joe Flacco suffered a season-ending neck injury to open an opportunity for Lock, whose NFL debut was a 23-20 victory over the Chargers in Week 13.
“The main thing is guys just gotta worry about doing their job …” Harris said. “If I can lead by example and just go out there and do my work, making sure I keep the defensive side accountable, that’s my role.”
The Chargers have begun a gradual reopening of their facility in Costa Mesa this week. A team spokesman said about 10 front-office executives are expected to return, while most will continue to work from home.