Not only is quarterback Justin Herbert learning a new offense this offseason, he's doing so while practicing against a puzzling defense.
Head coach Brandon Staley spoke after last week's minicamp about the process they've gone through together this offseason – a process that has pushed the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year to improve all aspects of his game entering season two.
"We didn't want to take it easy on him," Staley said. "We wanted to make it right for him. Those are two different things. Justin is such a hard worker. When you see him out on the practice field, you can see all of that hard work really shine. I thought that he had a really solid two days here."
Physical traits aside, Staley said that Herbert's command and comfortability both in and out of the huddle were among the things that stood out over two-and-a-half weeks of OTAs and minicamp.
It's a testament to the investment Herbert has made and the progress he's seen in his short time together with Staley. Herbert said he'll spend his time away from the facility studying so that he has the offense "down to a T" when training camp commences.
"What he and I talked about is that most of the things in life that are worth it, you really have to fight for," Staley said. "It's not just going to happen right away."
Herbert said there's "a ton" he's focused on improving, from drops and footwork to having a better feel in the pocket. In addition to mastering the offensive playbook, Herbert pointed to defensive recognition as another element of the game he's working to get better at.
That's where Staley's D has delivered.
"All of the defensive looks that they have — they hold their disguise so well and they're always showing [coverage] shell," Herbert said. "It puts the offense in a tough position because everything looks the same and you're not really able to pick up where the pressure is coming from, where to slide to and who to point. Just seeing all of that, it doesn't get much more complicated than that, so I have really appreciated that."
Picking up a complex offense while facing a defense designed to confuse could be maddening for a 23-year-old quarterback. Veteran tight end Jared Cook – who played in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense the last two seasons in New Orleans – said he's seen young signal callers that don't understand the offense and are never able to pick it up.
Herbert, though, is different.
"What I see from him is that the corrections that he's making aren't big ones, but the little ones that he makes, he picks up on them fast," Cook said. "He changes it. It's not a repetitive correction thing, which is what you see out of a lot of young guys, no matter what position, in the league. There are those mistakes that you have to get rid of and I don't see any of that from him. He's been on it, man."
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