Day 1 with Jim Harbaugh, and Chargers' 'physicals' take a whole new meaning

Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during his introductory press conference.

The Chargers are still more than five months away from playing the initial game of the Jim Harbaugh era.

But where the team is headed was evidently quite obvious during the first meeting on the first day of the first phase of Harbaugh’s first offseason program.

“We’re going to be physical,” new tight end Hayden Hurst said. “We’re going to come right at you. You see us pop up on the schedule, it’s going to be a long Sunday.”

Hurst signed with the Chargers last month after spending time with Baltimore, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Carolina. He was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 2018 draft.

During his first two NFL seasons, Hurst played for Harbaugh’s brother, John. After spending just one day with Jim, Hurst said the two coaches share “the same sort of ideology” of how to best win games.

“We want to out-physical teams,” Hurst said. “We want teams to fear us. We want teams to end up giving up in the fourth quarter where we’re just hitting our stride.”

Read more: Jim Harbaugh: Chargers could get top non-quarterback in NFL draft

Harbaugh has conveyed a similar message since he day he was formally introduced as the Chargers’ new coach in early February. He is determined to toughen up a franchise not recognized historically for its physicality.

With that as the goal, Harbaugh brought with him from his previous job at Michigan an assistant named Ben Herbert, the Chargers’ new executive director of player performance.

Herbert is expected to play a significant role as the team attempts to fulfill Harbaugh’s rougher vision. Tuesday’s opening day included baseline testing to determine where each player is starting from physically.

From there, Herbert will begin building on what he calls the “key performance indicators,” with a particular focus on the neck, shoulders, hips, hamstrings and ankles.

“My first goal,” Herbert explained, “is to make you harder to break.”

Harbaugh described Herbert as combining “the cutting edge, scientific with the old-school discipline strength and conditioning.” The two men worked together for six years with the Wolverines.

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“He’s the best I’ve ever seen or been around,” Harbaugh said, “as a player or as a coach.”

The famous infectious enthusiasm that has marked Harbaugh’s coaching career was also quite obvious as he met en masse with his players for the first time at the Chargers’ Costa Mesa training facility.

After declaring that he’s “not an opening statement guy,” Harbaugh talked for more than a minute, comparing Tuesday to the first day of school, New Year’s, a family reunion and homecoming.

He explained the overriding feeling thusly: “You’ve got life now.”

“Just found out your wife was pregnant …” Harbaugh continued. “Just that bounce in your step.”

He said that the players went through offensive and defensive meetings — which included the initial installment of his schemes — along with extended weight room sessions.

He called the meetings “lively” and said the learning is designed to take place in layers, likening the process to the way math is often taught.

Chargers new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks on the field before an AFC Championship game.Chargers new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks on the field before an AFC Championship game.

“I see that eagerness in the players,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe that’s just because I’m so eager. But I truly see it.”

He also was on point in terms of his equally famous Harbaugh-isms. A sampling:

“What’s good for the bee is good for the hive.”

“The back is just an untapped gold mine of lean muscle mass.”

“Fat’s the enemy of speed.”

The Chargers will continue their offseason program Wednesday, with the schedule including the first special teams meeting.

Read more: NFL votes to significantly alter kickoff rules in name of safety and to revive returns

Because they have a new head coach, the Chargers were allowed to began their sessions earlier than those teams that didn’t have changes at the top.

Throughout the offseason, into the summer and extending to the start of training camp and beyond, Harbaugh will preach the importance of toughness, of running the ball, particularly with the presence of Justin Herbert.

“He’s deadly,” Hurst said of the Chargers’ quarterback. “You give him a run game, he’s going to be able to throw it all over the place. I think that’s the one thing — outside looking in — he hasn’t had.”


The Chargers signed tight end/fullback Ben Mason on Tuesday. Mason was a fifth-round pick of Baltimore in 2021. He has appeared in one NFL game.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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