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5 Takeaways: What Are Jim Harbaugh's Expectations for the 2024 Chargers?

JH League Meetings

Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh spoke for 30-plus minutes Monday morning at the AFC coaches' breakfast at the 2024 NFL Annual League meeting.

Here are five takeaways from Harbaugh in Orlando:

1. Early 2024 expectations

It's been two months and one day since Jim Harbaugh and the Chargers joined forces.

And while Harbaugh and his staff have been hard at work inside Hoag Performance Center during that time, the fun will soon ramp up when Bolts players return to the building.

"We need the players. To get to where we're going to be, it's in steps and we can't do anything until we get to the players in there to really give us that lift. So far, so good," Harbaugh said.

The Chargers, who can begin their voluntary offseason program early because they have a new coach, will start up on April 2.

Harbaugh said Monday that starting the offseason program strong is currently top of mind.

"We've got high expectations but right now my expectations are high for April 2, you know? I can't wait for that," Harbaugh said. "Then, like anything, you just chip away at it. You just chip away at it and find a way. We think we can."

Harbaugh has turned around every program or team he's been with, changing the culture and getting them to win — sometimes as early as Year 1.

That happened in Harbaugh's first season with the 49ers back in 2011 as he took a 6-10 and went 13-3 in his first year. San Francisco won the NFC West and went to the NFC title game.

Harbaugh downplayed any grand predictions Monday but said instead that he's simply embracing the grind and process he knows it will take to have success.

"Every year is a new year. It's almost like, I keep having this vision in my head like some of those Survivor programs … like 32 teams and we're all we got," Harbaugh said. "We're eventually going to be 90 [players] to 53 and 17 on the practice squad and coaches and front office and ownership.

"Every person in that building from equipment to training staff, to the social media staff, the analytics staff, there's so much respect to what everybody does," Harbaugh continued. "Everybody in that building, everybody in that organization, nobody was born on third base. They had to work their way to first, to second, to third. And the players, same thing.

"I want celebrate and congratulate them for being at the highest level in football and celebrate their story and how they got there. Now we're all here together, we're all on third base, poised to bring this home together," Harbaugh added. "That's where I'm at, that's the excitement I have and just sitting on a spring waiting for April 2 to get here. I think we're in a great place to welcome the players and get the ball rolling on April 2."

2. A business decision

The Chargers have revamped their roster the past few weeks, and no move made as much headlines that a trade that sent Keenan Allen to the Bears.

The Bolts received a 2024 fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall) in exchange for the wide receiver.

Chargers General Manager Joe Hortiz outlined the reasoning behind the trade last week. Harbaugh on Monday did the same.

"It's the business part of the NFL. Everybody does what's best for them," Harbaugh said. "Joe talked about it last week, it's just very transparent, that's why you love the NFL.

"It's the business part of it and everybody does what's in their best interest," Harbaugh added.

Like Hortiz, Harbaugh noted that the Chargers and Allen's representation had plenty of dialouge.

"A lot of conversations with [Allen's agent] Joby [Branion] and Joe. Joe and Joby were having a lot of conversations," Harbaugh said. "Again, that's the business part, it's great everybody has a representative.

"It's just a cool thing when there's that transparent part. It's not like anything else, everybody knows this is doing what's good for you and his family, doing the honorable thing," Harbaugh added. "Heck of a deal for him. Did we want him? Yeah."

Harbaugh noted that he did chat with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert after the trade went down.

"Same conversation that we're having right now. This is the business side of the NFL," Harbaugh said. "The NFL has a business side to it and guys do what's best for them, what's best for their family, do what's best for yourself professionally and personally and everybody understands that."

3. Bosa & Mack are back

Harbaugh hit on a variety of topics Monday in Orlando.

But his face lit up when he mentioned a pair of Chargers veteran edge rushers.

"I'm thrilled to have Khalil Mack on the team, thrilled to have Joey Bosa on the team," Harbaugh said of the duo, both of whom agreed to a contract restructure in recent weeks.

Much like the Allen trade, Harbaugh noted the "transparent business piece" that comes with contracts and financials.

Now that those are resolved, however, Harbaugh said he — and Chargers Defensive Coordinator Jesse Minter — can't wait to see the duo in action alongside youngster Tuli Tuipulotu.

"Thrilled to be coaching Khalil Mack," Harbaugh said. "I mean, you watch what Khalil did, the kind of year he had, playing every game.

"Joey was having a better year than Khalil through that stretch until he got hurt. I'll tell you guys who's really thrilled, Jesse Minter," Harbaugh continued.

"What Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa and Tuli are going to be in this system, really excited about that," Harbaugh added. "Can't wait to see that come to life starting April 2."

Mack tallied a career-best 17.0 sacks in 2023, a mark that tied the Chargers single-season franchise record. Bosa recorded 6.5 sacks in nine games played.

Take a look at the top photos of Jim Harbaugh during his playing days as a Charger.

4. A focus up front

Harbaugh this offseason has repeatedly noted the importance of a strong offensive line.

He struck the same tune again Monday and said the five starters up front have a direct impact on how the entire offense performs.

"The offensive line to me is important," Harbaugh said. "If I asked you the question like, 'What position group depends on no other position group to be good, but every other position group depends on them to be good. What position group is that?'. Offensive line.

"They're not relying on any other position group to be good. They go out, yet every other position group relies on the offensive line to be good," Harbaugh added.

The Chargers have multiple starters returning from 2023, a group that includes Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Jamaree Salyer and Trey Pipkins III. The Bolts also added center Bradley Bozeman in free agency.

The key, Harbaugh said, is for the group to work as one.

"I think they're really good, I think they're really willing and then just the mentality of that group, that's like a fist, there's five of them," Harbaugh said. "There's one, two, three, four, five, playing as one on that offensive line.

"I look at them and go, 'Yeah.' Rashawn, really good, excited about Zion, Bradley Bozeman signed him, Salyer, Pipkins, I really like [Jordan] McFadden, too," Harbaugh added. "Just can't wait to get in the room, get in the weight room, get on the field and coach guys and be around them and build that group. Excited about that as well."

Harbaugh was asked directly about Salyer, who is entering Year 3 in the league. He played left tackle in place of Slater in 2022 before moving to right guard in 2023.

"He's versatile. You love guys that are versatile like that. We'll see, it's to be determined," Harbaugh said of his Salyer's eventual position. "I've seen the tape but that's not everything to me.

"Getting around guys on a daily basis, then those questions getting answered. I see McFadden as a possible center, too, and he's got versatility," Harbaugh added. "He's got the athleticism, he's got the feet, he's got the intelligence and intangibles I've been told. There's all kinds of possibilities that you think about and anticipate, but we all got to get together here in the same room all natural we'll go about it."

5. Praise for Gilman

It's safe to say Harbaugh is excited about what the 2024 Chargers defense could look like on the back end with Derwin James, Jr. and Alohi Gilmna both returning a starters.

"Super excited about our safeties. Alohi, Derwin … it doesn't get any better than that," Harbaugh said.

The Bolts brought back Gilman on the first day of free agency as the safety has become a key figure on the defense in recent years.

Gilman's steady presence on the back end and the chemistry he's built with fellow James has allowed the two to thrive when they're on the field together.

And he's earned a fan of Harbaugh going back even before he suited up in the powder blue, as the Chargers Head Coach's admiration dates back to his early college days.

"Long been a fan of Alohi from his Notre Dame days and Navy days," Harbaugh said. "Just getting the chance to be around him and the interactions I've had, he's just who I thought he was."

Gilman has often set the tone for the defense as he has shown a nose for the football, with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries to go along with two interceptions and 10 passes defensed in 2023.

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