Chargers’ Jim Harbaugh raves about ‘incredible’ Justin Herbert

Chargers’ Jim Harbaugh raves about ‘incredible’ Justin Herbert

COSTA MESA — It was one thing to watch Justin Herbert throwing spirals on TV on a Sunday afternoon at home or while reviewing video miles and days or weeks or months removed from the action. But it was quite another thing to observe the Chargers’ strong-armed quarterback up close and personal.




Those were Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh’s initial impressions of Herbert through organized team activities and into a three-day, mandatory minicamp that began Tuesday in Costa Mesa. Mind you, they were no different than when Harbaugh was coaching at the University of Michigan.

But standing near Herbert these past few weeks has given Harbaugh a new appreciation for the man tasked with leading the Chargers’ turnaround on the field, in team meetings and in the locker room. Or more to the point, Harbaugh has gained an even greater appreciation for Herbert.

“It’s been incredible,” Harbaugh said Tuesday of working with Herbert. “It’s probably the reaction everybody has. I knew he was really good, but when you’re right up next to him, watching, you feel the way the ball comes out of his hand. It comes out a lot faster than you think, than it looks on tape.

“He’s bigger. Taller than you think watching TV. Every kind of sense. Smart. Incredible the way he picks things up, masters things. Every detail. Every small detail. The conditioning test was another eye-opener. Just when you think he can’t go up another rung on the ladder of my esteem, he finds another one.

“He smashed the conditioning test last Thursday. I mean, crushed it, like, out in front, people trying to keep up with him. To the point, the athleticism and the strength, he could play tight end here. He could play edge rusher here. And the arm talent is even better than advertised. It’s an exciting thing.”

Harbaugh said he’s found himself sitting at the desk in his office pumping his fist.

“He’s on our team,” Harbaugh said, smiling.

Harbaugh referred to Herbert as an “example-setter, a tone-setter” during practices, meetings, workouts in the weight room and anywhere else he’s interacted with teammates, coaches and staff members at the Chargers’ headquarters. Harbaugh couldn’t provide one specific example, but said there were many.

So far this spring, Herbert has suffered no setbacks after undergoing season-ending finger surgery in December that sidelined him for the final four games of the 2023 season, ending his streak of 62 consecutive starts and limiting him to 65.1% passing for 3,134 yards, both career lows.

Herbert is scheduled to speak to reporters Thursday, but Harbaugh did plenty of talking for him Tuesday, praising the fifth-year pro at length.

“I mean, numerous throws, of course, smashing the conditioning test, it’s just like child’s play,” Harbaugh said. “The way he’s picked up the system, cadence, the motion, landmarks, the protections, his knowledge of the protections. Yeah, I could point out a bunch of examples where he changed the protection, picked up the blitz, knew the blitz was coming and made this incredible throw.”


It’s early, of course, and a great deal could change between now and the season-opening game Sept. 8 against the AFC West rival Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium, but it would appear that the Chargers’ offensive line has sorted itself out during spring practices.

Rashawn Slater has a lock on the left tackle spot with Zion Johnson at left guard, Bradley Bozeman replacing the retired Corey Linsley at center, Trey Pipkins III shifting to right guard from right tackle and first-round draft pick Joe Alt earning the starting position at right tackle.

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“Really good,” Harbaugh said of the Chargers’ O-line. “I think it’s on track to be a top-tier offensive line in the NFL. Those five (Slater, Johnson, Bozeman, Pipkins and Alt) have really separated themselves. The sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth offensive linemen, it’s going to require pads to sort them out.”


Running back Gus Edwards and tight end Donald Parham Jr. were among those who worked out on the sideline with athletic trainers because of unknown injuries. Linebacker Junior Colson rejoined his teammates for team drills after he walked off the field early in the spring because of an unknown ailment.

Harbaugh declined to provide specifics.

“I’ll tell you if it’s long-term or something,” he said.