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Justin Herbert must adjust to Chargers' new philosophy that running is not passé

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Justin Herbert must adjust to Chargers' new philosophy that running is not passé

No quarterback in NFL history has attempted more passes per game than Justin Herbert.

His 39.1 mark over the last four seasons edges Andrew Luck, with Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford next on the list.

Now, Herbert is playing for a head coach and offensive coordinator who, since their arrivals five months ago, have talked extensively about emphasizing the run game.

“Selfishly as a quarterback I’d love to throw the ball every time,” Herbert said Thursday. “But if we throw it one time or we throw it 100 times, as long as we’re winning and finding a way to do that, it’s good with me.”

After the Chargers wrapped up their three-day minicamp in Costa Mesa, Herbert met with the local media for the first time since the team brought in Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman.

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The new regime — including general manager Joe Hortiz — first reshaped the roster to try to become more powerful and physical. Roman then spent the several weeks introducing an offense designed to operate from the ground up.

The Chargers’ new additions include running backs Gus Edwards, who is known of his downhill approach, and J.K. Dobbins, whose explosiveness has resulted in per-carry career average of 5.8 yards.

“We don’t have pads on, so you can’t really feel the impact of the run game right now,” Herbert said. “But you can feel the juice. They’ve got energy. They bring it.”

The overall theme has been to establish a run-pass balance, a clear departure from how the Chargers have played offensively since Herbert took over as the starter in Week 2 of his rookie year.

“The way that we’ve installed everything,” Herbert said, “we want to be able to do everything.”

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Except for the Chargers’ Week 14 loss to Denver last season — when Herbert left the game early because of a finger injury — he has attempted at least 24 passes in each of his career starts.

Along the way, he set numerous franchise and league records and made the Pro Bowl in 2021. Herbert’s right arm has been celebrated as few others, Harbaugh just this week noting the velocity it can generate.

But the Chargers are only 30-32 in Herbert’s starts. They’ve played one postseason game with him at quarterback and are coming off a five-win finish that led to all the leadership changes.

So, it’s not difficult to believe Herbert when he says winning is more significant to him, even while joking that, when it comes to passing the ball, “the more the better.”

In his conversations with Roman, Herbert said the message has been to involve the playmakers, take care of the ball and — if the defense has a decided advantage or there is risk of a turnover — “punting is not the worst-case scenario.”

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The ultimate goal of the offense, Herbert explained, is to produce completions, explosive plays and touchdowns, but the Chargers aren’t going to simply force the passing game.

Harbaugh spent 14 years in the NFL as a player, starting games at quarterback for Chicago, Indianapolis, Baltimore and the Chargers. Herbert said his head coach brings “great perspective” each time he sits in the quarterback meetings.

Similarly, Harbaugh spent several minutes during two recent media sessions praising everything from Herbert’s physical skills to his mental capacity to his overall leadership.

“Nobody in this organization has played quarterback at the high level that he has,” Harbaugh said. “There’s an expertise there that has been extremely valuable.”

When the Chargers met on the field for the final time Thursday before breaking for the start of summer, Herbert was the player Harbaugh tabbed to address the group.

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Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) flips a football while watching practice.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Herbert said he spoke about the importance of not allowing the offseason-program work to go to waste. He said he encouraged his teammates to remain diligent in their preparation for training camp, which starts in late July.

“If we’re going to be the team we want to be, it starts now,” Herbert told reporters later. “It’s starts when we’re on our own and having that level of loyalty and dedication and integrity.”

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Safety Derwin James Jr., another of the Chargers’ acknowledged leaders, also spoke publicly for the first time in months Thursday, saying the renewed atmosphere surrounding the team “feels like Christmas.”

James called Harbaugh “the most powerful leader I’ve seen” and highlighted his ability to command a room just by walking through the door. Like several of his teammates this offseason, James said the mood is different.

“Every year, you’re going to feel like you’re the team to beat, feel like you’re going to the Super Bowl,” James said. “But this year it just feels right. … I can’t wait to play ’cause I really believe it’s going to be special.”

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.


The shimmer of Caeleb Dressel’s seven gold medals may suggest otherwise, but he knows swimming can be a brutal and suffocating sport.

He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best in the world at what he does, sprinting from one end of the pool to the other (and sometimes back). He holds the world record in the men’s 100-meter butterfly, having first snatched that historical distinction away from Michael Phelps in 2019. Then, Dressel lowered his world record in the event at the Tokyo Olympics — where he won five gold medals in five events.

Despite it all, Dressel was miserable.

He was fixated on where he felt he’d failed. In one race, it was the turn. Another, the finish. His head position. It didn’t matter that he’d touched the wall first over and over again. It didn’t matter that he was bringing gold home and helping Team USA finish atop the medal count. He chased perfection. He chased times and chased stretch goals. He hadn’t met them.

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“I created a monster in myself — just so caught up in perfectionism,” he told former Olympians Missy Franklin and Katie Hoff on their “Unfiltered Waters” podcast. “So caught up in, ‘If I don’t see these times, it means I’m a bad person, or it means I did not train hard enough. If I don’t go a world record, it means … I didn’t obsess enough.’”

The sport he’d been drawn to as a kid because it was so delightfully fun was quite the opposite. And it’d been that way for years. But Dressel kept pushing himself, listening to his internal critic ripping himself apart.

Until he “broke,” he puts it now. He withdrew abruptly in the middle of the 2022 world championship meet in Budapest and disappeared from the sport for eight months.

Dressel hasn’t gone into much detail about that period of his life in Gainesville, Fla., other than to say he spent a lot of time with his therapist. His wife, Meghan, was there for him, too, though she also realized there were a lot of conversations Dressel needed to have inside his own mind. Some days, he didn’t do much. Most days, he avoided routes that took him past the University of Florida pool. He didn’t want to smell the chlorine.

He had to figure out who he was beyond his best times and what made him tick outside the pool. He had to reorient himself, how he believed others felt about him and why they loved him. He had to learn how to smile again.

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The process wasn’t easy, and progress hasn’t always been a straight line. But it’s what makes Dressel, 27, who he is now as a swimmer and a person (and new dad). It’s also why he’s back in the pool and headed to Paris, one of the headliners of Team USA and arguably the most important piece of the puzzle for the U.S. swim team in its efforts to win the meet by bringing home more gold medals than its peers. There is outside pressure, yes. But inside his mind, Dressel’s biggest critic is quieter.

“It’s really tough,” Dressel told The Athletic last month. “It’s embedded in me — where you always want to look for ways to get better. I’m still doing that, but I’m not becoming obsessed and so fixated on it that I lose sight of what’s actually fun with the sport. It’s hard, and it’s not like I’ve all of a sudden gotten to figure it out this year. There are things that I’m really proud that I’ve done differently, like being able to enjoy parts of the sport without just crapping on myself for not being perfect.

“It is still very much a work in progress.”


Caeleb Dressel won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. But a year later, he walked away from the sport. It’s still “a work in progress,” he said of his return. (Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images)

Now, Dressel sounds like a person who’s figured out a lot about himself through therapy. One of the first things he will tell you is how helpful his regular appointments with his therapist have been.

“I’ve been trying to not be so fixated on results and just simply enjoying racing and training — those are the two parts of the sport that I really enjoy,” Dressel said. “There are parts of the sport that I really dislike, that I really hate. But it’s worth putting up with for the moments that I really do enjoy. It’s going to be a balance; I’m not expecting every part of the sport to just be the best thing ever for me. But I’ve really leaned into the parts of the sport that I do enjoy.

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“That’s been the main difference for me. I’ve always loved training. I’ve always loved being around the team. The actual racing portion, I do really, really enjoy — as soon as the gun goes off, it’s just simply fun. So, I’ve just been trying to keep it just simply swimming. Simply swimming this year.”

Dressel will simply swim the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 fly as individual events at the Games, and he’ll likely be part of multiple relays. At the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis, he finished third in the 100-free final, which cost him the opportunity to defend his gold medal in the event in Paris.

But he’s happy to be part of the Olympic team. He’s proud of what he accomplished at trials to qualify for it. He’s thrilled that his infant son, August, got to see it all, held in Meghan’s arms in the stands.

“No one can take that away,” Dressel said in Indianapolis. “He’s not going to remember it. I will tell him, trust me, I got photos so I can prove it. … That was a really special moment. Meghan knows what goes into this, not just the parenting side of things but she gets to see firsthand the struggles that come with the sport.

“The tears that come with it, the frustration and then also the high points, and getting to share that with them, because they go through that as well — that was really special, August getting to see that.”

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Meghan shared a video of Dressel with baby August at the Olympic training camp in North Carolina this month, another moment captured and saved to commemorate a once-in-a-lifetime moment. They’ll be in Paris, too, alongside Dressel’s parents and family. Dressel said he wouldn’t be where he is today without their support. And he certainly wouldn’t be where he is without Meghan, whom he calls the “superhero” of their family.

Parenthood is wonderful for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest lesson it teaches is one of perspective — especially for someone who has spent most of his life chasing times and hunting perfection that does not and cannot exist.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud. It really is,” Dressel said. “When you’re 19, 20, 21, you keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. I’m still working harder than ever, finding every path I can take to shave those couple of tenths. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that. I’m really good at racing. You put me in a race, I will make it close, as close as I possibly can, even if I have to try to kill myself to get there. I will put myself in those situations.”

So, he doesn’t know exactly how Paris will go. But he knows he’s older, wiser and genuinely happier than before the last Olympic Games. Others see it, too, and not just when he’s straddling the lane line after a race or punching the water in celebration.

“He’s always had that smile,” seven-time gold medalist and University of Florida training partner Katie Ledecky said. “He took that time away, and when he came back, he’s had that smile every day. Just to see his progression over this past year, how he’s just gotten better and better each meet — he seems to just be loving the racing, and he loves the training probably more than the racing, and that makes everyone around him better.”

It will make one of the best swimmers in the world better, too. And that’s why that smile is as good as gold, no matter what medal hangs around Dressel’s neck.

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Caeleb Dressel

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud,” Caeleb Dressel said. He’ll give it a shot in Paris starting later this month. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

(Top illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images) 

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

Utah State fired football coach Blake Anderson Thursday for what it called “significant violations of his contractual obligations.”

The firing came more than two weeks after the school informed Anderson of its plans to terminate his contract due to actions in the spring of 2023 that violated “both his employment agreement and university policy.” The school said it conducted an external review that found he failed to comply with Title IX policies regarding the reporting of sexual misconduct cases.

The university also dismissed Jerry Bovee, associate vice president and deputy athletic director of external affairs at Utah State, and Austin Albrecht, the director of player development and community, for alleged violations of university policies related to the reporting of sexual and domestic violence and failures of professional responsibilities.

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of his team’s game against the New Mexico Lobos at University Stadium Nov 26, 2021, in Albuquerque, N.M.  (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

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After informing Anderson his employment agreement would be terminated July 2, the school waited two weeks for Anderson’s response as required by Utah law.

On Thursday, Utah State officially terminated Anderson. 

“To USU’s disappointment, Anderson’s response failed to acknowledge his responsibilities as a USU employee and as a head coach and instead sought to make excuses and unsuccessfully recast the clear language of USU’s policies,” the university said.

ALABAMA REPORTEDLY NAMING FOOTBALL FIELD AFTER FORMER HEAD COACH NICK SABAN

Blake Anderson

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies talks into his headset during the first half of a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Maverik Stadium Oct. 13, 2023, in Logan, Utah.  (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

Anderson, 55, was about to enter his fourth season with the school after posting a 23-17 record in his first three seasons, including the Aggies’ first-ever Mountain West championship his first season. 

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Nate Dreiling was elevated to interim head coach after serving as Utah State’s defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach under Anderson.

Blake Anderson during a game

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of a game at University Stadium Nov. 24, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

“While I recognize that today’s decision has a significant impact, it is the only one that could be made based on the facts.” USU President Elizabeth Cantwell said in a statement, “We are committed to moving forward in building a winning athletics program grounded in student success and integrity.” 

The Aggies open the 2024 season Aug. 31 against Robert Morris.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

Teoscar Hernández could be playing for the Boston Red Sox this weekend instead of against them.

He could have taken the two-year, $28-million deal he says the Red Sox offered during the offseason.

He could have returned to All-Star form and won the Home Run Derby while representing a Boston team he says was always one of his favorites.

But that’s not how it played out for Hernández. Instead, the outfielder has been representing Los Angeles in tremendous fashion after signing a one-year, $23.5-million deal from the Dodgers, who start a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“Obviously, I was not gonna go and spend my free agency trying to get a bad deal,” the Dominican Republic native said this week on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast. “I love the Red Sox. It was one of my favorite teams. And I love playing [at Fenway Park], but at the end of the day I have to [decide] what is best for me, my career and my family.”

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Hernández made his major league debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2017 trade deadline. He became an All-Star in 2021 and finished the season with career highs across the board, including a .296 batting average, 163 hits, 32 home runs and 116 runs batted in.

After his numbers dipped the following season, Hernández was traded to the Seattle Mariners, where his 211 strikeouts were the third most in the majors last year. As a free agent this past season, Hernández said, he received interest from the Angels as well as the Dodgers and Red Sox, but his final decision was between the latter two teams.

Hernández told “Baseball Isn’t Boring” that the Red Sox gave him the impression they’d be willing to increase their offer to three years after some maneuvering on their end.

In December, the Dodgers signed major deals with Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow. Hernández said he saw what was happening in Los Angeles and knew he “couldn’t wait any longer” on the Red Sox.

“Teams that wanna win, they spend. They go after good players,” Hernández said. “I’m not saying [the Red Sox] don’t have good players, because they do. The Red Sox are really good right now and they had amazing players. But for my part, I just wanna go to a team that it’s looking for everybody that is good to win … that they’re not afraid to spend and to go after good players so they can make their team better.”

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Hernández has flourished in L.A. His 62 RBIs rank seventh in the National League and trail only Ohtani among Dodgers. His 28 hits with runners in scoring position are 12th in the NL and second on the team, behind Freddie Freeman. His 19 home runs are tied for fifth best in the NL and second on the team to Ohtani.

On Monday night, he outlasted Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals to become the first Dodgers player to win the Home Run Derby in its 40-year history.

“In this organization, everybody talks about win, win, win, and that’s me,” Hernández said. “I don’t care about anything else. I want to win. I’m at one point in my career that I want to go out there and have fun, have a good year but also win too.”

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