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Day 1 with Jim Harbaugh and the Chargers ‘physicals’ take on a whole new meaning

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

But where the team is headed was clearly evident 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 coming straight to you. You see us showing up on the schedule, it will 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 kind of ideology” about how to best win games.

“We want to outdo the physical teams,” Hurst said. “We want teams to be afraid of us. We want teams to give up in the fourth quarter, where we’re just getting on track.”

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Harbaugh has delivered a similar message since he was formally introduced as the Chargers’ new coach in early February. He is determined to strengthen a franchise that has historically gone unrecognized for its physicality.

To that end, Harbaugh brought along 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 key role as the team attempts to realize Harbaugh’s grittier vision. Tuesday’s opening day included basic testing to determine where each player physically starts.

From there, Herbert will begin to build on what he calls the ‘key performance indicators’, paying particular attention to 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 advanced scientific with the old-fashioned discipline, strength and conditioning.” The two men worked together with the Wolverines for six years.

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

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The famously infectious enthusiasm that has characterized Harbaugh’s coaching career was also on display when he met his players en masse for the first time at the Chargers’ training facility in Costa Mesa.

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

He explained the overwhelming feeling this way: “You have life now.”

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

He said the players experienced offensive and defensive meetings — including the first installment of his plans — along with extensive weight room sessions.

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

Chargers new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks onto the field for an AFC Championship game.Chargers new head coach Jim Harbaugh walks onto the field for an AFC Championship game.

“I see that eagerness among the players,” Harbaugh said. ‘Maybe that’s just because I’m so excited. But I really see it.”

He also got it right when it came to his equally famous Harbaugh-isms. An example:

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

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

“Fat is the enemy of speed.”

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

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Because they have a new head coach, the Chargers were allowed to start their sessions earlier than the teams that had no changes at the top.

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

“He’s deadly,” Hurst said of the Chargers quarterback. “If you give him a run game, he can throw it either way. I think that’s the one thing – from the outside looking in – that he hasn’t had yet.”

Etc.

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

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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