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5 Takeaways: What We Learned From the Chargers Offseason Program


The Bolts have earned a well-deserved break after completing their offseason program last week.

Players and coaches will now get some time off before training camp begins in late July, with an eye on the 2024 season opener on Sept. 8 against the Raiders at SoFi Stadium.

Until then, here are five takeaways from the Bolts offseason program:

1. The Jim Harbaugh Effect

The Bolts didn't mince words when talking about the impact Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh had on his new team.

"He's the most powerful leader I've seen," Derwin James, Jr. said.

Joey Bosa called Harbaugh the "final piece" on the Bolts path to success, while Khalil Mack said he appreciated that Harbaugh has been "a straight shooter" from Day 1.

Justin Herbert also detailed the mindset that Harbaugh has brought to the Chargers.

"It's been an honor to play with him so far and share that quarterback room with him," Herbert said. "He's definitely a very intelligent, committed and competitive guy. He truly wants to win whatever he's playing."

Harbaugh was hired in January after leading Michigan to a national title in the college ranks.

He quickly got reacclimated to the NFL, where he spent four years as the 49ers Head Coach from 2011 to 2014, where he went 44-19-1 and led the organization to a Super Bowl appearance plus two other trips to the NFC title game.

Harbaugh's fingerprints are all over the Bolts as they prepare for camp, whether it's the staff he's assembled or the uniforms he has the Chargers practicing in.

Make no mistake about it, Harbaugh's leadership is going to drive the Chargers going forward into the 2024 season.

"Everybody is on the details. I'm sure it's a word that you've heard a million times," Bosa said. "I think it just feels like Coach [Harbaugh] is leading the team the way it should be led.

The message is sent from the top and it doesn't get mixed up as it's moving down the ladder," Bosa added. "It's, 'Boom, this is how we're doing things,' and everybody is following that. I think it's impressive, the details that everybody has been on, the effort and just the competitiveness that has been going on over the last few weeks. It's been great."

James added: "Everything is the same and we all been connecting. Every day it's been in the details in every thing we do. I'm talking about from how we walk, how we put on our shoes, to how we line up, to how we play. It's going to be good. It's going to be fun."

2. All about the work

Every NFL team works hard during their offseason program. Duh.

But has Mack, a 10-year veteran who has been with three teams, worked this hard in a spring session?

"Not like this," Mack said last week.

Yes, it's clear that the Chargers have ramped up their intensity and commitment level in recent months.

Harbaugh told a story last week where he revealed that he actually noticed an uptick in work ethic when he tried to dial back the players' schedule.

"What I've noticed about this team, probably hit me a couple weeks ago, when I say, 'Hey we're stopping early', or we're cutting 30 min out of this practice or this weight session, then I just watch them do more," Harbaugh said. "They do more than what they would have had I scheduled it out. Player-led, 30 minutes short then you watch it, it becomes like a beaver dam of activity."

Check out the best photos of the Chargers wrapping up their off-season program on Day 3 of Mini-Camp 2024, the final practice at the team's Costa Mesa facility before moving to The Bolt in El Segundo

Ben Herbert, the Chargers Executive Director of Player Performance, has surely been a driving force behind that.

Back in April, Ben Herbert revealed his simple mission statement.

"My goal is not to break you, my goal is to make you harder to break," he said.

Ben Herbert appears to have done just that, as players have raved about the progress in their performance on and off the field of late.

The Chargers held a team meeting last week in which players' growth metrics were shown over the past few months.

"He's been awesome, in the weight room especially," Justin Herbert said. "That level of command and attention to detail he has, it's been so great. We've watched the growth of the guys over the past couple of months ... so many great results."

Mack added: "Coach Herb … he's a different type dude. He's a savage.

Ben Herbert's impact has spilled onto the field, too, with the Bolts doing fourth-quarter finishing drills at the end of spring practices.

That means that a two-hour practice isn't enough, as it is followed by medicine ball carries, sled pulls and flipping weighted contraptions ... all of which Harbaugh participated in.

Veteran Denzel Perryman took to the podium after a May practice and hit on Ben Herbert's impact then.

"I'm still sweating right now," Perryman said with a laugh. "It's been great. He's one of those coaches where he doesn't just talk about the results, you actually see them. It makes you want to get going and just follow the plan."

3. O-line taking shape

One of the biggest storylines surrounding the Bolts this offseason was the offensive line.

Harbaugh and Chargers Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman made it clear from the moment they were hired that they wanted the Bolts to be a physical team that could run the ball in any situation.

Andy Bischoff, the Bolts Run Game Coordinator and tight ends coach, further drove that point home in April.

"This is going to be an O-line-centric building," Bischoff said. "When it comes to our strength program, it's built around the O-line. Everybody else fall in line.

"Some people don't value offensive linemen. We do," Bischoff added. "That will be shown in how we approach everything — from how we stretch to how we lift, to how we run the ball, to how we protect. This is a place where O-linemen are going to want to come and play because it's an O-line-centric space."

Sure enough, the Bolts then spent the No. 5 overall pick in the draft on tackle Joe Alt after adding veteran center Bradley Bozeman to the squad in free agency.

As the Bolts get ready for camp, Harbaugh said the group of, from left to right, Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson, Bozeman, Trey Pipkins III and Alt have "really separated themselves" as the starters.

"I think it has a chance to be a really top tier offensive line," Harbaugh said.

He later added: "Not having a weak link is critical. I think we're trending to really having a top to bottom outstanding offensive line."

Something to note: the right side of the line is undergoing a position switch.

Alt played left tackle at Notre Dame but has moved to right tackle due to Slater's dominance in that spot. And Pipkins, who spent the past few seasons at right tackle, has shifted inside to guard.

Roman quipped last week that Pipkins has thrived with the switch and that he brings a "medieval" mentality in the trenches.

"Whether it's guard, whether it's tackle, you can rely on him to be whatever we need him to be," Justin Herbert said. "He's done such a great job with that, especially in the weight room.

"His commitment, his leadership, the guy he is in the locker room, we're glad to have guys like him on the team," Herbert added.

Roman offered the final word on this group:

"I can't speak highly enough of how those guys are working," Roman said. "You can start to visualize some things you can do with those guys.

"They're very versatile, very good athletes, they pull well, they can come off the ball and knock people back," Roman added. "They can go reach people. We're really excited about that group."

4. A secret strength?

Harbaugh delivered a signature line last week when he revealed a position group that has stood out to him this offseason.

"Our defensive line, [I] didn't know where that was exactly when I first got here, but it's a strength," Harbaugh said. "It's a strength for us, really excited about it."

For as much as Harbaugh has preached beefing up the offensive trenches, it's the same message on the defensive side of the ball, too.

"First thing we want to teach is technique and block destruction," Chargers defensive line coach Mike Elston said of his group. "We have to be able to knock people back and play the run. I think we'll do that very well."

Morgan Fox, Scott Matlock and Otito Ogbonnia are key returners from a season ago and have been joined by Poona Ford and fourth-round draft pick Justin Eboigbe.

That group will look to improve a run defense that has been lacking at times in recent seasons.

Ford, who is entering Year 7 in the NFL, said he and Fox have taken on leaderships roles in the room … even if both of them are on the quiet side.

"I don't like it because I'm not really a talkative person," Ford said with a laugh. " But I feel like Morgan does a good job. That's his role. I just kind of sit back and be quiet and chime in when I need to."

Fox added: "It's weird being the oldest guy in the room. I'm really lucky to have Poona in there with me because he's also a vet … and has played at a high level. But we have a lot of young guys … and we have a room that wants to prove itself."

5. A rookie standout

Looking for a rookie standout from the offseason program?

Meet cornerback Tarheeb Still, a fifth-round pick from Maryland who turned plenty of heads during minicamp practices last week.

Still was finding his way through the majority of spring practices before he nabbed an interception off Justin Herbert on Thursday and added two pass breakups in full-team drills against other quarterbacks.

Chargers Defensive Coordinator Jesse Minter last week noted Still's growth on defense.

"Tarheeb has, probably in the last three or four practices, made a really, really good jump that you sort of expect a guy to make after being able to digest five or six practices," Minter said. "Really happy with the jump he's made.

"He made a bunch of really nice plays out there the last couple days," Minter added.

The cornerback out of Maryland also got a shout out from James on Thursday.

"Tarheeb been making a lot of plays in the slot," James said.

Still wrapped up minicamp with a few more pass breakups Thursday to end his first offseason program on a high note.

The Chargers appear set at outside cornerback with Asante Samuel, Jr. and Kristian Fulton manning those spots.

And while Ja'Sir Taylor was the primarily slot defender this spring, a little depth and competition from Still certainly isn't a bad thing.

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