National Football League
Chargers' Jim Harbaugh lauds Justin Herbert, can’t believe ‘he’s on our team’
National Football League

Chargers' Jim Harbaugh lauds Justin Herbert, can’t believe ‘he’s on our team’

Published Jun. 13, 2024 2:24 p.m. ET

COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers have had full participation from all players this offseason as new head coach Jim Harbaugh works to instill his culture and identity on the 2024 team. 

"There's been the first coat of paint, the second coat of paint," Harbaugh said. "We're at the third or fourth coat of paint right now. It feels good that we're getting better at football."

For Harbaugh, that includes grinding it out in tough practices and a hands-on approach to coaching quarterback Justin Herbert. Harbaugh said he's been impressed with Herbert, watching him work up-close for the last two months during offseason practices, which end this week with a three-day, mandatory minicamp. 

"It's incredible the way he picks things up and masters things — every detail, every small detail," Harbaugh said about Herbert. "The conditioning test was another eye-opener. Just when you think he can't go 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 with people trying to keep up with him. [With his] athleticism and strength, really, 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. I found myself just sitting at my desk at times, going, ‘He's on our team!'"

Herbert is the only player on the field who wore a gold jersey. The other offensive players, including backup quarterback Easton Stick, wore white jerseys. Harbaugh said Herbert wore the gold jersey to signal an extra layer of protection for the franchise's most-prized asset.

Herbert is working his way back from surgery after breaking the index finger on his throwing hand in December. The injury forced him to miss the final four games of the 2023 season, ending a streak of 62 straight regular-season starts. 

Harbaugh said Herbert didn't want to wear the gold jersey.

"I understand that," Harbaugh said. "As a quarterback, I didn't like wearing a different color jersey than anybody else on the team. So I understand that's not ideal for Justin, as it wouldn't have been for me. But for the quarterback, we try to have a two-yard halo around him.

"The gold jersey is just a reminder we want two yards around the quarterback. But for the guy wearing the gold jersey, let's make that two and half, or three." 

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While Harbaugh has been impressed with Herbert's physical attributes and how quickly he's learned the offense, one other thing has stood out for the veteran head coach.

"The way he elevates his teammates," Harbaugh said. "He lifts them up, kind of makes himself smaller and them bigger — as opposed to the guy who pushes others down and [says] ‘Look at me.' I've seen numerous of those. Right now, that probably tops the list. … There's never any shameless self-promotion. He's just been willing to do anything and everything for the team." 

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is teaching Herbert his seventh different offense in nine seasons, dating back to the QB's time at Oregon. Roman said the Chargers have already gone through their offensive installation four different times, showing the tempo with which the team has worked during minicamp.

The Chargers went precision, no-huddle periods, speeding through several plays during team drills. Practice tempo was competitive, with receivers going to the ground to make plays. 

"This is our offense now, and I think the guys feel that way," Roman said.

Like Harbaugh, Roman is impressed with Herbert's ability to quickly process information and make it happen on the field.

"I don't know if he has a photographic memory, but his ability to almost memorize a game plan to a T, it's impressive," Roman said. "We all knew coming in that Justin is a super talented guy, but then when you see how he works day-in and day-out diligently, he takes everything very seriously. He just empowers everybody around him."

The Chargers are 30-32 in four seasons with Herbert as the team's starter, with no playoff wins as he enters Year 5 in the league. NFL observers know he's one of the best throwers in the NFL. It's up to Harbaugh and Roman to turn that talent into production — and ultimately into wins in the postseason.

"With Justin, the sky's the limit," Roman said. "What's above the sky? The stratosphere? The stratosphere is the limit. It's upon all of us — coaches, players, the line, receivers, the tight ends, the backs — all of us to put it all together into a winning way. We're on that path."  

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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