Super Bowl champ, Super Bowl MVP and Walter Payton Man of the Year are just a few accolades used to describe former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.
At Super Bowl LVI Radio Row, we got a chance to ask the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback about the Chargers' own QB Justin Herbert and where he saw the biggest improvement in No. 10's game.
Warner, who has been an analyst at NFL Network since 2010, talked about his first impressions of Herbert's skillset and the high expectations he has for him after his standout first two seasons in the National Football League.
"My first impressions are, 'Wow, yeah I didn't see this coming out of college.' I thought it was going to be a little bit more of a process for him, but it has been fun to watch him when he was thrown in to see how he performed early on and then to see the progress that he made this year to become more of a complete quarterback. I mean everybody around the Chargers knows the sky's the limit having this guy as your starter, that you've got a long way to go with him, you are going to have a lot of time with him as your quarterback. I fully expect him to be here in the Super Bowl at some point in time because of what we've seen in the early part of his career."
Warner gave insight into the mind of a veteran quarterback and talked about what he's watching as he evaluates current QBs.
Warner noted all the physical attributes Herbert had on gamedays during his rookie season, but in year two, Warner saw Herbert unlock a new aspect of his game.
"It's just the combination of the physical stuff. You start to see that and you see these 'wow' throws and you are like 'oh my gosh' [with] what he's capable of from a physical standpoint. But to me, as a former quarterback, I'm always watching the mental. I want to see a guy grow and understand what he's seeing and being able to get the ball out of his hands quickly. So, you know his first year was a lot more 'bombs away' and you got to see that physical stuff that impressed you. This year, what I loved about him was the way he played the game with his mind and the way he got the ball out of his hands. You start putting those two things together along with the talent that you've got around him and there's big things to come for this Chargers football team."
Last offseason, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley made it a priority to upgrade the Chargers offensive line for the 2021 campaign. The Chargers drafted a Pro Bowl left tackle in Rashawn Slater, who made an instant impact.
Warner expressed just how important it is to have a left tackle like Slater to protect Herbert's blindside.
"I got to play with one of the greatest in Orlando Pace and it's so nice to not ever have to worry about that guy. A lot of teams will put their best pass rusher over there on the blindside of your quarterback and so for us it was like ok, 'We can X that guy out, we don't even have to worry about him.' As a quarterback, you don't want to ever have to worry about those guys coming after you and so when you've got a comfort level with a left tackle that again, is in a position to be there as long as Justin is going to be there because they came in at basically the same time, that is something that as a quarterback you love to have that peace of mind and go, 'Oh I can just go play and I don't have to worry about what's going on back there.'"
Staley helped usher in a new era and a culture shift for the Chargers in 2021. Warner talked about how important good leadership is, something that he experienced first-hand throughout his 12-year career in the NFL.
"Leadership is everything. I was a part of two organizations that when I got there, they hadn't been very successful in recent years and so we always talk about building a culture, changing the culture, opening up the possibilities of what an organization believes they can accomplish. It's all about those people that are in those leadership roles and sharing a specific message that people will buy in to and the consistency of that. I think the Chargers are in great shape with a young head coach, and you hear it every time he talks, and I love when we talk about going for it on fourth down and just his mentality is I believe in my guys, and I believe in what we're doing. You have that consistent message that people start to go, 'Ok he's not wavering, he's not changing.' They've got that in the quarterback, they've got that in the coach, that's going to bode well for the organization."
Within the last few years, the NFL has seen a wave of young head coaches that are bringing a new identity to how the game of football is played.
Warner talked about how Staley is part of the new, 'innovative' head coach flurry.
"As the game changes, you have to find coaches that have changed with the times, that have that flexibility that bring in those new nuances that have made this game so different. You got the offensive side, it's all around passing right now, a decade ago it was run first, pass when you have to. Now, it's we are going to pass all over the place, so you need to have those innovative coaches in that regard. Then defensively, I think that's probably the biggest challenge. You bring in a coach like coach Staley who's on the defensive side because how do you stop these offenses? With all the rules and all the talent that we've got, how do you stop them? It's all about staying up on the times and the innovative coaches that can bring a new style to connect with the new players, but also connect with the new game."
Following the Bolts' 9-8 record for the 2021 season, Warner explained what they need to focus on most heading into 2022.
"Biggest thing now, just find a way to win those close games. They were in so many close games this year and often times that's the difference between a great season and an average season is how many of those games do you find your way into winning and that's probably going to be the key for them moving forward."
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