After meeting with the Bolts at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, the Oregon quarterback received a package of formations and plays. The Chargers told him to learn the material.
Herbert studied before a scheduled video conference with Chargers coaches, who put the highly-rated prospect through a test.
But one question about a formation stumped Herbert, and he couldn't let it go.
"I kinda talked to my agents after that I told them, 'I might not be a Charger. This didn't go the way that I thought,'" Herbert recalled.
That's Herbert, who as a student at Oregon had a 4.0 GPA and earned the William Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman, as a senior. He studies to get every question right, every time. When he doesn't, it can eat at him.
Despite the miscue during their virtual meeting, the Chargers selected Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft. Now he's on track to eventually take over as the franchise quarterback after the Bolts parted ways with Philip Rivers after 16 seasons.
As for that formation Herbert missed? After the draft, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn chuckled when asked if he recalled the wrong answer that caused Herbert consternation.
"He's a perfectionist," Lynn said. "He would remember something like that. Hell, I wouldn't! It doesn't bother me at all. He's human."
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco told "The Pat McAfee Show" that the Chargers were prepared to select any of the draft's top three quarterbacks, depending on who fell to them between LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Herbert.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Burrow with the top overall pick. The Miami Dolphins went for Tagovailoa with pick No. 5. So it's Herbert, a quarterback the Chargers have said they're equally excited about, who will be groomed to take over as starter.
"He's a big, fast, dual-threat quarterback with plenty of room to grow," said Telesco, who had yet to select a first-round quarterback since he was named GM in 2013 until taking Herbert. "We really love his quarterback potential, his quarterback makeup, his leadership skills, his toughness, his mental toughness, being able to handle adversity."
Lynn has emphasized his confidence in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is entering the second season of a two-year, $11 million deal. A nine-year pro, Taylor has served mostly as a backup with the exception of three seasons as a starter in Buffalo, where he led the Bills to a playoff appearance in 2017. Taylor is expected to earn the starting role when the 2020 season opens, but if all goes as planned, the job will eventually belong to Herbert.
Lynn sees Herbert as the Chargers' franchise QB
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn joins NFL Live to talk about the 2020 NFL draft, Justin Herbert's potential with the team and if the former Oregon QB will be a starter his rookie season.
"We drafted him high to one day be our franchise quarterback, for sure," Lynn said about the 22-year-old Herbert. "But I don't want to put a timetable on this young man. ... Does he need a couple of years? Does he need one year? Maybe he doesn't need any at all. I don't know. They're going to go in and they're going to compete. The best guy is going to play."
Said Herbert: "I'm going to do everything I can to be the best quarterback I can be. If I'm the guy, that's great. I want to be the guy, but if I have to sit back and learn, I'm going to do everything I can to become the quarterback I need to be."
A four-year starter at Oregon, Herbert overcame a 4-8 freshman season that caused for unpleasant memories, "Got booed by our fans at home," Herbert said. He played for three head coaches, and learned three new offenses.
In his final two seasons, Herbert passed for 6,622 yards and 61 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. Projected as a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Herbert could have departed following his junior year but returned for a final year of eligibility and led the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl, where Telesco and his staff were watching.
"We had numerous scouts see him throughout his whole career, as well," Telesco said. "Being on the West Coast and a Pac-12 player, he's someone that we've had a lot of exposure to."
It's usually hard to predict when a rookie is ready to be inserted into the starting lineup, and that was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the offseason program. Lynn acknowledged the transition from college to the NFL can be difficult but said the curve was especially steep for a rookie quarterback. Herbert's intelligence will help when the rookies begin the virtual offseason program, but it's likely his development will be slowed without on-field instruction.
"I don't care how smart you are, until you get in there and get those reps, especially with a new offense and maybe doing some things differently than you've done in the past, like playing underneath the center, that's going to be harder if we don't have camps," Lynn said.
At Oregon, the 6-foot-6, 234-pound Herbert didn't call plays in the huddle, as he usually played out of the shotgun. He was fluid at creating plays in and out of the pocket with his feet and also demonstrated excellent arm strength.
With Taylor and Herbert both being nimble, a trait Rivers was not known for, the Chargers are expected to adapt their offense accordingly.
"They know that I like to think of myself as pretty athletic," Herbert said.
"I don't think there is anything that this young man can't do," Lynn said. "He's mobile. He's fast. He has a strong arm. As soon as he can get in here and learn our system and our offense, he's going to be just fine. I think he can do whatever he sets his mind to do."
More play-action is expected. The shotgun and pistol will be utilized, but Herbert must also learn to play under center, which reaches beyond learning the footwork.
"It's the eyes," Telesco said. "Your eyes are a little bit different when coming under center rather than when you're in shotgun."
Herbert seemed unfazed, and well aware, of the skills he must master to become an NFL starter.
"I have to get under center. That's what I've done these past three months. A lot of the footwork stuff that comes with it. [I've worked on] mechanics a lot," he said.
The flunked formation still bothers Herbert.
But now firmly entrenched as the future of the Chargers' franchise, he can set his sights on passing a much bigger test.