Herbert: 'Everyone wants to follow' Harbaugh

COSTA MESA, Calif. — After his first minicamp under Jim Harbaugh, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said that his new coach has already significantly changed the team and that it’s been an “honor” to play for and share the quarterback room with him.

“He’s done such a great job taking this team and getting them to where he wants them to go,” Herbert said. “He’s won wherever he’s at. He’s a guy that everyone wants to follow and play for.”

Harbaugh often joins the players in post-practice lifts or specific drills. It’s been a different experience than Herbert has had with any other coach, but it’s one he has appreciated. Harbaugh, 60, has done pushups with linebacker Junior Colson, shown rookie quarterback Casey Bauman a proper dropback, and pulled hundreds of pounds of weights.

And Herbert said that Harbaugh doesn’t playfully do these workouts; he’s always trying to win.

Jim Harbaugh’s attention to detail and energy has stood out to Justin Herbert and other Chargers players. Harry How/Getty Images

“It’s a cool experience to be able to share that with your head coach,” Herbert said. “Whether we’re pulling sleds, he expects to be the fastest or to pull the furthest, and when we’re carrying those med balls, he’s wanting to go the furthest, he wants to go the fastest.

“And to have a guy like that set the stage, set the standard for these undrafted guys, for these rookies to see that, I think they follow in his footsteps.”

Herbert’s praises of Harbaugh have been a theme of the Chargers’ offseason, as Harbaugh looks to turn around a team that was 5-12 last season and saw the departures of some of the franchise’s best players in receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler.

Harbaugh’s attention to detail and energy has stood out to players the most. While other camps are more relaxed with players in baseball caps and loose practice jerseys, the Chargers practice in game jerseys and helmets. It’s a strategy that the team’s best players have already bought into, but it didn’t come without some questioning.

“You hear complaints in the sense of ‘Why we got this on?'” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “But it was something I told [Morgan] Fox. The game jerseys do feel different than the practice jerseys. You’re going to breathe differently in the practice jersey, practice pants, or whatever the case may be.

“I feel like he kind of just shifted the mindset by putting us in those same situations that we’re going to be in games,”

Mack said that the team has bought into Harbaugh’s atypical approach to training camp and believes that focusing on the details can help them finish games this season. The Chargers had seven one-score losses last season.

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It’s a similar feeling for outside linebacker Joey Bosa, who said that missing details in your everyday life can lead to issues on the field. Bosa has appreciated the college-like atmosphere Harbaugh has created, and compared it to his college coach, Urban Meyer from Ohio State.

“I think it feels like Coach is leading the team the way it should be led,” Bosa said. “… The message is sent from the top and it doesn’t get mixed up as it’s moving down the ladder. It’s boom, this is how we’re doing things, and everybody’s following that, and I think it’s impressive.”

Perhaps the player Harbaugh has talked about most is safety Derwin James. Harbaugh told reporters Thursday that he tells players to follow whatever Derwin is doing if they hope to be successful — from the clothes they wear to the food they eat.

James has reciprocated his love for Harbaugh, calling him the most “powerful leader” he’d been around.

“When he walks in the room, he lights up the room,” James said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’ve been through … he gets your attention, and it means something to him.”

Like Herbert, James smiled most when he spoke about Harbaugh joining the team for strength and conditioning reps at the end of practices.

“It’s been amazing, especially at his age, to be able to go out there and pull three, four plates,” James said while laughing. “I mean, it is shocking at that age, honestly, but it’s been fun definitely to see the work. He made a comment the other week, like, ‘It’s kind of getting easier.'”

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