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Embracing the Grind: How Justin Herbert is Working to Turn the Bolts Season Around


The sun has long set by the time Justin Herbert heads home from work these days.

The Bolts quarterback fills his schedule with practices, meetings, body recovery work and film study. Lots of film study.

"Monday and Tuesday are lighter days," Herbert told of the days where he only puts in eight hours or so. "But the rest of the week? I'm usually here by 6 a.m. and don't leave until at least 8 p.m.

"There are some breaks here and there, but we've got a lot of film to watch and things to catch up on," Herbert added. "There's plenty of work to do."

Not that the face of the Chargers franchise is complaining about the grind.

"Personally, I love football so I wouldn't want to be doing anything else," Herbert said with a smile. "I don't have to go to school anymore so I can just focus on football.

"This is my school and I'm fortunate enough to be doing this for my living," Herbert added. "This is the most important thing to me."

Herbert, who is in line to make his 60th career start Sunday night against Baltimore, knows where the Chargers currently stand in the AFC playoff picture with a record of 4-6.

But he carries a belief in his teammates as he continues to put in the time and effort to help get the Bolts season headed in the right direction.

"This is as close as we've ever been as a team," Herbert said.

"We're excited and looking forward to the challenge of playing the Ravens this week. We know how good of a football team they are so we have to be at our best," Herbert continued. "We'll learn from our mistakes and learn from the good things.

He added: "I feel like we've got a special group of guys to keep fighting through it."

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Herbert's maturity as an off-the-field leader is summed up in that quote.

It's an evolution Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley has seen firsthand in recent seasons.

"I think so much of when you're a young player in the league, especially a quarterback, you're just trying to figure out how to do your job well," Staley said earlier this season about the team captain. "You're experiencing everything for the first time all the time. You're just trying to establish yourself as a good quarterback, as a good player, let alone leading the entire football team as a 22, 23, 24 year-old person.

"That's a big task to just do it all by yourself. I think each year, he's established more and more comfort in front of the group and stuff like that, but leadership is about your actions," Staley continued. "It's not about what you say, it's about what you do. That's why Justin has always been a leader for us because his actions speak to the highest form of leadership, in terms of the work that he puts in.

"No one works at their game more than Justin Herbert does," Staley added. "I think he's found his voice more and more every year because he's becoming more comfortable with every aspect of the organization."

There's also an element of toughness — both mentally and physically — that Herbert knows is simply required of any NFL starting quarterback.

"I'd like to think it's pretty far up there," Herbert said when asked where toughness needs to rank on a quarterback's skillset. "One of the most important jobs of the quarterback is being steady and making sure that when the bullets are flying that you're calm-headed and able to deal with the adversity that comes your way.

"We've dealt with our fair share of adversity this year," Herbert added. "But I can always be a better leader and better quarterback. That's what I'm striving for."

As for Herbert's performance on the field, he seemingly comes up with a new trick each and every week.

In Week 10, Herbert passed Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (16,418) for the most passing yards through the first four seasons of a career.

Herbert on Sunday then passed Manning for the third-most touchdowns passes (111) in that same timespan.

The Chargers quarterback is currently tied for second in the NFL with six games this season of 250-plus passing yards. He's also tied for the second-fewest interceptions with five.

Herbert has produced points, too, as his 19 touchdown passes are tied for the third-most in the league.

If advanced stats are more your thing, consider that Herbert ranks seventh among all quarterbacks with an EPA per play of 0.174 this season.

Or that his 92.7 overall grade in Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus, was the second-best mark of any NFL player who played at least 25 snaps last weekend.

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Those who have known Herbert for a few years still marvel at what he is able to do on game days.

"[He can] scramble around, stop on a dime, deliver a ball," said Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton. "You watch other quarterbacks in the league and then see him go out there and how he can get the ball to the far side of the field with pace.

"It's all extremely impressive," Guyton added. "It's hard to just be like, 'Yeah, expect superhuman things from people'. But he's special."

Veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen added: "He never seems to surprise us. He comes out and he balls every time, he puts the offense on his back and puts us in a position to win the game."

Herbert isn't one to gloat about the numerous personal stats or accolades he racks up.

The only measure of success he cares about is winning, something Herbert noted he takes personally if the outcome doesn't favor the Bolts.

"As a quarterback and leader of the offense, there's a lot of responsibility there," Herbert said. "I'm not going to say it's been easy because it's been a tough couple of weeks.

"You'd love to win every single game but it hasn't gone that way," Herbert added. "The only thing we can do now is react, respond and deal with this adversity."

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The Chargers have seven regular-season games left and will have their chance each week going forward to make up ground in the playoff race.

All of the Bolts remaining games, beginning with Week 12 against the Ravens, are against conference foes. That stretch includes two current division leaders (Baltimore and Kansas City) plus three other AFC West games against the Broncos (twice) and Raiders.

Herbert and the Bolts have been right there nearly every week, as five of their losses have been by three points or less.

The path to the postseason may seem like an uphill climb at the moment, but if the Chargers are going to make a late-season push for a playoff spot — just as they did a year ago — it's undoubtedly going to be No. 10 leading the way.

"We're awfully close. But that's the thing about the NFL, the margin of error is so small," Herbert said. "It's a really tough league, and if you're not at your best, it's really tough to win games like that.

"I know that we're close and that we're doing things the right way," Herbert added. "We just have to crank it up another notch."

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