Welcome to Part 1 of our 2023 positional recaps, a series that will run through the next few weeks and highlight 11 Chargers position groups. We'll focus on key stats, memorable moments and look to what lies ahead in 2024.
Justin Herbert is as tough as they come.
The fourth-year quarterback showed it once again this season, playing most of the season with a fractured finger on his left hand he suffered in Week 4.
Herbert's final 2023 stats may not be the most eye-catching, but the face of the Bolts franchise was able to keep the team in about every game with his arm and legs, carrying the offense even as injuries began to pile up on that side of the ball.
A fractured finger on his throwing hand in Week 14 against the Broncos effectively ended his season at 13 games however. It was a massive loss for the Chargers that they were not able to overcome.
"It hurts not being able to play, that's the toughest part of going out there and seeing your teammates, guys you've battled with all year and not being able to do what you'd like to do for them, to go out and play," Herbert said about missing time. "I think it's awesome to see the way they fought and the way they battled and came together for these last couple of weeks.
"It could've been real easy for a lot of them to shut it down and quit, but these guys stuck together," Herbert added. "It was awesome watching [Easton] Stick go out there and play and battle and compete. I thought he did a great job stepping in. There are obviously things we can do better, but watching them fight and compete, I gained a new appreciation for that."
Stick stepped up in Herbert's place after his injury and experienced his first extended NFL action after five seasons.
Stick would fill in admirably and give the Bolts a chance in each of the final three games.
The 2019 Chargers fifth-round pick reflected on the opportunity to start after the regular season finale and expressed gratitude for the chance that despite the losses.
"I think the word that comes to mind is grateful," Stick said about his season. "Just really grateful to the Spanos family, this organization, a couple of coaching staffs that stuck with me and, ultimately, gave me an opportunity to go out there and compete with the guys.
"It's been tough. It's really frustrating when you don't win. You play to win," Stick added. "But, I'm incredibly grateful to be a part of this organization and to have their support."
Herbert sounded optimistic Monday that he'll have a normal offseason, adding that he could start throwing in "a month or so."
Herbert, who signed a multi-year contract extension in July, is focused on coming back better as a team and have a different season in 2024.
"We have to be better, and we have to be honest with ourselves watching this film," Herbert said about the offseason. "That's one of the good things about having that time, we can really be honest with each other.
"We know that we got the right guys in here to be able to work together and make this thing go, but it's on us to be better because of it," Herbert added.
Sitting at 0-2, the Chargers needed a Week 3 road win against a Vikings team that was also 0-2.
Herbert promptly put together one of the best games of his career.
The Chargers quarterback threw for 405 yards — the first 400-yard game of his career — and added a three touchdown passes in a surgical performance in Minnesota that gave the team their first win of the season. He finished the game completing 40 of 47 passes (85.1 percent) to go along with a 123.8 quarterback rating.
The most impressive part of Herbert's afternoon wasn't just the numbers, it was the circumstances in which he achieved them.
According to Next Gen Stats, Herbert completed 32 of 38 passes against the blitz for 307 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first player in the NGS era to throw for over 300 yards against the blitz.
Herbert's performance in Minnesota was one of the most impressive in the league and a reminder of why he is one of the NFL's best.
To top it all off, it gave the Chargers a huge road win early in the season.
Best of the bunch
Let's give some kudos to Stick for his performance in the final stretch of the season. It was the first time the fifth-year quarterback saw extended action during the regular season and he gave the Bolts a chance to win.
But this title goes to Herbert, who continues to etch himself in those 'elite' conversations.
It's hard to predict how his season would've ended up, but the Bolts franchise quarterback was relied upon heavily throughout the season.
Both wide receiver Mike Williams and center Corey Linsley missed the rest of the season following Week 3, and others such as running back Austin Ekeler, wide receiver Joshua Palmer and more missed time throughout the time Herbert was under center as well.
Still, Herbert ranked in the Top 10 among PFF's top 10 offensive grade (85.4) and passing grades (83.0) among quarterbacks through Week 13, and was in the top 10 in passing yards as well.
Coupled in with a run game that had its struggles, Herbert's arm and legs were a big part of keeping the Chargers offense in the top part of the league even with adversity.
2024 Player to Watch
Yes, it's Herbert again.
Herbert will be entering his fifth season in the NFL in 2024 believe it or not and will turn 26 years old during the offseason.
He will be entering, what history shows, what will be the prime of his career soon, and the reason his 2024 is particularly interesting is because he will be coached by a third head coach during his time in the NFL.
The Chargers have begun the process of interviewing for the open head coach and general manager positions, something that will be big for the future of the Bolts.
Herbert said Monday that he is willing to offer his own input however he can in the coming weeks but continued to express his faith with whatever direction the team goes with.
"I know that they're working on that, and we got complete faith and trust in the front office to do their job and they've done a great job so far," Herbert said. "Hopefully I'm able to talk with them and offer whatever advice I have.
"Having been in the league for four years, I hope that I'm getting better with understanding and seeing things the way they are, but there's definitely room for improvement and I can't wait to watch all this film," Herbert added. "Especially my four years here, that I know I can address and get better at. Just looking forward to getting better and playing better football."
It remains to be seen what offensive system the new head coach brings in. But a new offensive coordinator would be another change for the quarterback.
Herbert said it's something most players across the NFL experience and could be big for the quarterback heading into 2024.
"It's football, it's part of the job," Herbert said. "That's up to us to be able to figure that out and keep going with it."
Herbert later added about adapting to a new OC while at Oregon: "Experiences like that are always helpful. You can look at it two ways: it can hurt you or you can learn from it," Herbert said. "I think having gone through that, we had a great group of guys in that locker room that stuck together.
"It could have gone much worse but us for us to stick together and ride that throughout … we ended up winning a Rose Bowl our senior year and that was huge," Herbert continued. "That's just part of the game of being a professional and going about your business. It's up to us to understand the playbook, it's up to us to go through it and make sure we're dialed into it."
Completed 297 of 456 passes (65.1 percent) for 3,134 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions and a passer rating of 93.2. Added in 52 rushes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Started 13 games and played 838 offensive snaps (72.37 percent).
Completed 111 of 174 passes (63.8 percent) for 1,129 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and a passer rating of 85.6. Added in 27 rushes for 144 yards and one touchdown. Played in five games (four starts) and played 320 offensive snaps (27.63 percent.
Did not play in the regular season.
Did not play in the regular season.
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