COSTA MESA — For Justin Herbert’s first training camp, he was the shy rookie backup quarterback looking to prove he was the right draft pick for the Chargers.
A year later, Herbert was high-fiving Chargers fans and had a comedic response about a rival quarterback as he started his second training camp Wednesday.
“I think it’s pretty cool that Patrick Mahomes knows who I am,” Herbert said jokingly when asked about Mahomes’ recent comments about him at a celebrity golf tournament.
The Chiefs’ star quarterback started a friendly quarterback feud when he said “I’ll see it when I believe it” to a Chargers fan who told him to watch out for Herbert. Mahomes later said he respects Herbert and was just having fun with fans at the event.
“I got such a great respect for what he’s been able to do,” Herbert said about Mahomes. “I’ve watched him so much.”
Herbert, 23, turned many into believers during a historic rookie season and now has the attention of MVP quarterbacks along with being a fan favorite at training camp. He’s come a long way since his backup days with no fans in the stands at training camp in 2020.
An eager Herbert got carried away during an autograph session to welcome back fans after the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow them at last summer’s training camp. Herbert walked along the fence to high-five fans and take pictures after signing autographs from a distance.
“I just wanted to say thank you for them coming out,” said Herbert, who’s fully vaccinated. “I’ll make sure to wash my hands and keep my distance next time. I apologize.
“It’s been a long time since playing with fans and I think it’s an awesome opportunity for them to come out here and watch football.”
Clearly, many people know who Justin Herbert is, after he set NFL records for most touchdown passes (31) and 300-yard games (8) for a rookie, but now he has high expectations for his second season.
Herbert looked comfortable throwing to his familiar wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. But he had plenty to learn with a new coaching staff and an offensive line with four new starters.
Herbert said he had a lengthy conversation with newcomer and veteran tight end Jared Cook about stick routes.
“It’s all about building that timing – being out there and throwing with them,” Herbert said. “On the sideline, talking about their routes. … I got a bunch to learn from (Cook). Just being able to talk with him, talk about the routes, I think it helps us all.”
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) July 28, 2021
STALEY’S FIRST CAMP PRACTICE
The Chargers were scheduled to practice at 9 a.m. but players were on the field 30 minutes early for an “activation” period, which was defined by head coach Brandon Staley as the first of two warmups for stretching.
“Make that a winning edge for us – how we start practice,” Staley said.
Staley and his coaching staff have prioritized safety by having advanced stretching and controlled-pace practices. The Chargers didn’t have competitive 11-on-11 team drills during the offseason program.
The fast-paced team drills returned for the first day of training camp, but the Chargers practiced for only 75 minutes on the field.
“We wanted our guys to get to the end of practice and say, ‘Hey, I could have gone longer than that,’” Staley said. “But this is our first time competitively together and go 11-on-11. So, what we’ll try to do is phase this thing properly, get our guys the right tactical work, but make sure we’re building during training camp and we’re ready to play when it matters.”
Perhaps Staley’s emphasis on stretching and controlled practice speed could help the Chargers when it comes to injuries.
SAME OL’ DERWIN
Safety Derwin James has ended the past two training camps with injuries to his foot and knee. But James doesn’t plan on changing his aggressive playing style to avoid injuries on the field.
“I play football,” James said. “I’m here to play football. When you play this game slowly, it costs you, and that’s when you really get hurt. So you know, I’m still being me. I’m still Derwin James.”
The Chargers’ defense was ravaged by injuries in 2020, but they were at full strength for the start of training camp. With many Pro Bowlers and promising players, James has high expectations for his defense.
“We want to be the No. 1 defense in the league,” James said. “If that’s not our goal, then I don’t know what is. We always want to be the best defense. When we come out here every day, we want to work toward that.”
OTHER CAMP NOTES & OBSERVATIONS
Staley said he expects running back Justin Jackson to return to practice by the end of the week. He was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday. …
Offensive linemen Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi and Bryan Bulaga got the bulk of the reps with Herbert at quarterback. …
Brandon Facyson got most of the snaps as the third cornerback on the field. …
Tight end Donald Parham Jr., who stands 6-foot-8, made a handful of impressive catches.
10 feet pic.twitter.com/KDDhE00ybR
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) July 28, 2021